The European Parliament has come a step closer to backing José Manuel Barroso’s bid for a second consecutive term at the European Commission’s helm, it emerged yesterday (10 September). But Socialist and Green opposition to his re-appointment means there will be no “pro-European majority” behind him.
Leaders of the European Parliament’s political groups agreed today (10 September) to stage a vote on Barroso’s re-appointment on 16 September, paving the way for the Portuguese to be re-elected for a second five-year mandate at the European Commission’s helm.
Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal group (ALDE), helped tilt the balance in favour of Barroso when he threw his weight behind the former Portuguese prime minister.
But the leader of the Socialists and Democrats group, Martin Schulz, indicated that Barroso would not obtain a qualified majority of votes and thus he would not have the legitimacy required by the Lisbon Treaty.
The vote of approval, due to take place by secret ballot, was scheduled for a plenary session on 16 September and Mr Barroso appears to have a sufficient majority to win it.
Those supporting the vote were the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the Liberals (ALDE) and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), an anti-federalist group consisting of the British Tories, the Law and Justice party (PiS) of the Kazcynski twins in Poland, and the Czech Civic Democratic Party founded by the country’s Eurosceptic president Václav Klaus.
But the Commission president’s authority will be undermined as the Socialists and Greens opposed staging the vote of approval, saying there was no “pro-European majority” behind him.
According to Parliament rules, each political leader’s vote “weighs” as much as the number of MEPs in his group. Therefore with 265 MEPs from the EPP, 84 from the ALDE and 54 from the ECR, Barroso can rely on a comfortable majority of 403 votes in his favour (a simple majority of 369 votes is sufficient to pass decisions).
But the Socialist and Democrats group, with 184 MEPs, voted against holding the vote, insisting that the decision needed to be taken following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. They were backed by the Greens/EFA group, with 55 MEPs, and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), which has 35 MEPs.
A proposal put forward by Guy Verhofstadt to hold a second vote on Barroso under Lisbon Treaty rules, if and when the text eventually enters into force, was rejected. The Socialists supported this ALDE proposal, but the Greens and other groups voted against it and GUE/NGL abstained.
Calculating Barroso’s chances
But different rules will apply on 16 September, when MEPs will cast a secret ballot. Barroso is certain of being re-elected if he obtains a majority of votes from those present in plenary in Strasbourg on that day.
The EPP is expected to vote massively in favour of Barroso and the Portuguese can also count on the support of the ECR group and most of ALDE.
However, he would need a broader majority to be assured of victory.
It remains unclear how much support the Portuguese candidate can obtain from the Socialist group. The seven Portuguese MEPs and most of the 21 Spanish legislators are expected to support him out of ‘peninsular’ solidarity. Some Socialist MEPs from Eastern European countries may also vote for Barroso.
But several French and German Socialists said they will vote against him and many other centre-left legislators are expected to abstain.
As a result, Barroso is likely to be elected ‘thanks’ to the anti-federalist and anti-Lisbon Treaty camp, as without those MEPs, he appears to be short of a majority.
Asked by EURACTIV whether he was able to control his MEPs, or at least instruct them how to vote, Socialist and Democrats group leader Martin Schulz said: “For certain, I cannot, I am unable to give instructions, and it is not my habit. I try to convince my group with arguments. It is true that our group is a specific case. I wouldn’t hide that the Socialist group has different tendencies.”
“There is a governmental branch in our group which supports their comrade. Others are against [Barroso] and the third group, for the time being, hasn’t decided.”
Schulz deplored that Socialist prime ministers had backed Barroso and added that under such circumstances, his objective was to re-group his MEPs around a “common line”. The objective, he said, was to exert enough pressure to shape the next Commission’s agenda and introduce more social aspects to its policies. He also said he was going to pursue his task of obtaining a more influential position for the European left in the EU’s institutions (see EURACTIV 10/09/09 and EURACTIV 09/09/09).
Asked by EURACTIV if Barroso would be voted in by a European majority, Schulz answered: “With our vote, he would. Without us, he can have a majority only with the anti-Europeans.”
Asked again how this could in fact be the case as the centre-left appears divided, he mused: “How would you know that in advance?”