Barroso elected by Lisbon majority

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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. 

Congratulating Barroso on his re-appointment as Commission president by the EU assembly, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said: "We are no longer in a political vacuum and President Barroso can start to build on his detailed programme and construct his team of commissioners. The European Parliament has shown that it has teeth. The President for the first time presented me with his written 'political guidelines'. I welcome this as and trust it will be repeated. This represents a new dawn for relations between Parliament and Commission."

"Our Parliament will play a full role in the hearings of the new commissioners to ensure the strongest possible European Commission. We have also agreed that there will be a new 'Question Hour' every plenary where Mr Barroso will answer questions from MEPs," Buzek added.

Speaking to EURACTIV, former ALDE group leader Graham Watson said that half of the British Conservatives are pro-European, adding that he cannot speak for the other members of the Conservative and Reformist group. As for the Socialists, Watson stressed that they were in a difficult situation following the EU elections. 

"The Socialists are in a rather unenviable position, as they are still smarting from their defeat in June. Until the socialists have recovered, it will be very difficult to get any sensible majority for a long-term basis, for what we need to do. But the Socalists will recover and things will get better. I think there are signs of that already, because apparently many Socialists voted for Barroso," Watson said. 

Party of European Socialists (PESPresident Poul Rasmussen said: "As expected the European Parliament's conservative majority, including eurosceptics, have voted Barroso back in."

"Now the PES will focus on obtaining maximum influence in upcoming negotiations. The PES is still Europe's second largest political family. For the coherence of Europe, we insist on having the post of High Representative, or if the Lisbon treaty is ratified, the European Council president. We have several excellent candidates for these positions. We will also push for high level PES representation in the European Commission," he said.

Rasmussen added: "The PES wants to focus on the matters of real concern for our citizens: on how to ensure we do not have 30 million unemployed in Europe by 2011. We will be a force for proposition of a better way forward for Europe and its people."

ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt MEP (Belgium) said the majority behind Barroso was "sufficient to give him a strong mandate to lead the European Union in the difficult months ahead". "We now expect the newly elected President to live up to his promises to us and be a strong, bold and energetic president who is closely in tune with public opinion, independent of Member States' pressure and proactive in seeking common European action where it is so clearly necessary," he said. 

"In particular we reiterate the need to come forward with an integrated economic recovery strategy that will prevent Europe slipping into a prolonged recession, a European plan to clean up the banks and an ambitious and united position on climate change ahead of the talks in Copenhagen at the end of the year," the Liberal chief added.

"ALDE also recalls Barroso's commitment to a commissioner for fundamental rights, a review of the structure of financial supervision within three years and a determined effort to establish a sustainable system of own financial resources for the EU budget for the period after 2013," Verhofstadt concluded. 

Timothy Kirkhope MEP, leader of the UK Conservatives in the European Parliament, said his MEPs had been instrumental in re-electing Barroso.

"Far from being marginalised as our political opponents would hope, the votes of Conservative MEPs within our new ECR group were instrumental in the election of Mr Barroso for a second term," he said. 

"Following the vote, it is clear that he has been returned with a solid centre-right and reformist agenda," he added.

"Whilst not perfect, and whilst we have had disagreements with Mr Barroso in the past, and are bound to again in the future, he was and remains the best man for the job," Kirkhope said.

"As a new force in the European Parliament with a crucial number of votes, we will continue to play an important part in shaping European politics," he said of the UK Tories.  

UK Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff, who is president of the Union of European Federalists, said: "Mr Barroso has done very well to command the support of an absolute majority of MEPs. His mandate is now refreshed, and he should use it with skill and authority". 

"First, Mr Barroso should go campaigning in Ireland. The Irish referendum on 2 October will decide whether or not Europe can move forward again in the spirit of unity to confront global challenges. It is the decisive and last chance that the EU has to turn itself into a true parliamentary democracy. Failure to win the ratification and early implementation of the Lisbon Treaty will shunt Europe into an impasse," Duff said. 

"Second, the Commission must seize the initiative in preparing the EU to play the leading role at the climate change talks in Copenhagen. The member states will only be coherent if they get an incisive push from the Commission, backed by the European Parliament. The top concern is the level of funding made available by the EU to pay developing countries to adapt their economies to combat global warming. Europe has both a moral and economic need to shoulder a financial burden and to oblige the rest of the industrialised world to follow suit," he said. 

"Third, the EU's financial system needs radical overhaul. The size and shape of the EU budget should be allowed to grow to match the political demands made upon it. Expenditure should be transferred from national to the EU level where cost efficiency and added value can be guaranteed, or where market failure requires EU intervention. The new system must be buoyant, transparent and accountable. We have to get away from endless rows between net payers and beneficiaries and design a system of own resources which caters for the common interest of the whole Union," he added. 

"Fourth, Mr Barroso must turn his pledge to complete the single market by 2012 into reality. This requires not only a new action plan in the field of financial services and intellectual property, but also shoring up the existing internal market against creeping national protectionism and abuses of the EU's competition and state aid policies," Duff concluded.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) called in a statement for "a clear and real commitment on social Europe, in particular on the revision of the Posted Workers Directive".

"The European trade unions also wish to see a social progress clause annexed to the next treaty to guarantee the fundamental rights of European citizens and equal treatment," said the statement. "In spite of certain indicators of economic recovery, the economic and social crisis is far from over. Unemployment figures in the EU are expected to rise to 12% of the workforce by the end of 2010," it concluded.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, welcomed the news. "This gives us the stability needed for fully focusing on important challenges such as the economic crisis and climate change. It is also important for the continuing preparations for a new commission," he said in a statement.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hailed it as "a great result". "I have long said that he is the right man for the job," Brown said in a statement. "Under his leadership, the European Commission and Europe as a whole will continue to tackle the issues that matter to Europeans: jobs and growth, and the global challenges of security, poverty and climate change."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a past critic of Barroso said in a letter sent to the re-elected President: "I am happy that we have been given the opportunity to further deepen our cooperation, to continue the work done during the French presidency (of the EU), to expand the European project in the face of the economic and financial crisis and the challenges linked to globalisation."

José Manuel Barroso won unanimous backing from EU heads of state and government in June for a second five-year mandate at the head of the European Commission (EURACTIV 19/06/09). 

Their political support was formalised by written procedure on 9 July. Sweden, the current holder of the rotating EU presidency, had insisted on having Barroso re-appointed as soon as possible, arguing that in a time of crisis, the Union needs a Commission president who is fully in power (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on the Swedish EU Presidency). 

However, the re-election of Barroso took a different course in the European Parliament. After consultations mediated by the Swedish EU Presidency had taken place, it emerged that the European Parliament would not hold a vote on Barroso's re-appointment at its July plenary (EURACTIV 02/07/09). 

MEPs from the Socialist and Liberal groups, backed by the Greens and leftists, said that any decision on major appointments should wait until after the September general election in Germany and the second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, to be held on 2 October. 

Consequently, just before the summer recess, the leaders of the European Parliament's political groups agreed to delay until 10 September their decision on when to stage a vote for the top job (EURACTIV 17/07/09). 

On 3 September, Barroso, having worked over the recess, published his programme for the next five years, a 41-page document, contrasting both in length and substance with the short letter which helped him win the blessing of the EU's heads of state and government in June. Over the next week, Barroso presented his programme to all political groups. 

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