The European Parliament today (16 September) gave José Manuel Barroso legitimacy to steer the European Commission for a second five-year term not only under the terms of the current Nice Treaty, but also under the tougher criteria of the Lisbon Treaty, which is still awaiting ratification in Ireland, the Czech Republic and Poland.
In a secret ballot held during today’s plenary in Strasbourg, 382 MEPs voted in favour, 13 more than needed to attain the majority required under the Lisbon Treaty. 219 voted against him amid 117 abstentions. A total of 718 out of all 736 MEPs took part in the vote.
Speaking in his native Portuguese just minutes after the vote, Barroso thanked his Socialist prime minister, José Socrates, for the support which made his candidacy possible, and the European Parliament for its “enormous confidence” in him. He expressed his desire to work for all political parties because his party is “Europe”.
However, he also took time to thank his own political family, the European People’s Party (EPP), for having given him strong support ever since the EPP congress in Warsaw, which confirmed his candidacy last April (EURACTIV 30/04/09).
Congratulating Barroso, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, also affiliated to the EPP, said that according to current procedure he would ask the Council and the Commission to jointly propose members of the next EU executive.
The Socialist and Democrats group (S&D) remained silent immediately after the vote, with only a handful of Portuguese MEPs applauding. Most Socialist MEPs abstained on the advice of Germany’s SPD.
Speaking to the press, Socialist group leader Martin Schulz stressed that Barroso was “not the right candidate,” saying this was why his group had overwhelmingly failed to support him. However, he admitted that Barroso had managed to obtain backing from all political groups, including his own.
“Following the support [for Barroso] of seven socialist prime ministers, I’m not surprised that members of my group have voted for him,” Schulz said.
But the Socialist chief refuted the view that Barroso had obtained a Lisbon majority thanks to Socialist MEPs. Instead, he said Barroso had won a narrow Lisbon majority thanks to the support of the anti-Lisbon European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) group, composed of British Conservatives, Polish MEPs from the Law and Justice party founded by the Kaczynski twins, and the Civil Democratic party of Eurosceptic Czech President Václav Klaus.
“This was the only group which voted unanimously for him. And I think that a Commission president dependent on anti-Europeans is a weak president,” Schulz said.
‘Snake turned elephant’
Schulz blasted what he called Barroso’s eulogy of the EPP, and said that his worst fears had come true.
“Before the vote, [Barroso] was moving like a snake. Now he moves like an elephant,” said Schulz, adding that in his view, rather than a representative of the centre-right, Barroso was a political opportunist.
“I would have expected a candidate for the Commission presidency to tell today the people of Klaus, the people of Kaczynski, the people of [UK Tory leader David] Cameron, the three tendencies which seek to sink the Lisbon Treaty: don’t vote for me, I don’t want your votes. I swear, he would have obtained a much larger majority. But Barroso is not that kind of man. He grabs all he can get, he has no convictions, and that’s what he demonstrated today,” the Socialist group leader stated.
EPP group leader Joseph Daul opposed this view. “If we have a Lisbon majority, it’s not only thanks to the conservative votes: there have also been socialist votes,” Daul said. He added that the socialists who opposed Barroso had been “intelligent” enough not to vote against him, but rather to abstain.
Asked by EURACTIV to comment on Schulz’s statement that Barroso would not have obtained a better score if he had kept his distance from the Conservative group, Daul rejected the argument as invalid. He said he had good personal relations with most British Conservatives.
Asked if he was aware that the Conservatives were planning to prevent the Lisbon Treaty from being ratified, with Klaus and Kaczynski delaying the final signature (see EURACTIV 16/09/09), Daul admitted that he was concerned about the Czech president’s tactics.
“I hope that after 2 October [the second Irish referendum] the two presidents will sign. I’m more concerned with Klaus, and I’m less concerned with the Polish president,” he said.