EU leaders avoid top jobs fight with Parliament

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Seeking to avoid a damaging struggle with the European Parliament, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has announced that the EU leaders will not formally nominate José Manuel Barroso for a new mandate as president of the EU executive in July.

Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi accepted the widthdrawal of Mario Mauro’s candidacy for the presidency of the European Parliament, paving the way for the election of former Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek.

There will be “no decision” on Barroso in July, said Reinfeldt on 3 July in Stockholm. He retreated from his initial insistence that the Union must nominate a fully-fledged candidate for the next Commission as soon as possible to avoid an institutional vacuum, after meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday. 

Facing fierce criticism, especially from the centre-left political group, and the likelihood of MEPs refusing to hold a vote at the inaugural session of the new EU assembly next week, the Swedish Presidency decided to avoid a political conflict that would have weakened Stockholm’s EU leadership and damaged relations between the Parliament and the Council (EURACTIV 2/07/09).

Reinfeldt stressed that “the independence of the Parliament must be respected,” while Sarkozy underlined that he hoped the European Parliament would vote on the next Commission president in September. 

The move was greeted positively by the Greens, who said “the Swedish Presidency has made a wise decision in not insisting on holding a vote in July”.

Meanwhile, the Parliament’s internal struggle to select its next president appears to be easing, as Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi accepted the withdrawal of Italian MEP Mario Mauro from the race, in effect leaving only former Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek as the European People’s Party (EPP) candidate (EURACTIV 19/06/09). 

“Once again, Silvio Berlusconi and his party, the People of Liberty, have demonstrated their commitment to the values of a responsible and united Europe,” said EPP chair Joseph Daul, underlining that the Italian decision would enable the group to “nominate in a climate of great calm our candidate for president of the European Parliament”.  

Confirming his withdrawal, Mauro said he intended to faciliate the nomination of the EPP candidate through “an act of responsibility”. “Forcing the group to vote on Tuesday could produce unnecessary divisions in our political family at the most delicate phase of the legislature: at a time when we need to clearly indicate our political goals in the interests of European citizens,” he explained, referring to the internal vote that was initially planned.

In recent legislatures, the centre-right and the Socialists, the two largest political families in the Parliament, have struck a deal to share the presidency of the assembly between one another. Buzek could split the five-year term of the 2009-2014 legislature with German Socialist MEP Martin Schulz. 

But the candidacy of Graham Watson, former leader of the ALDE group, stands out in the curent horse-trading among the groups seeking to form majority coalitions.   

Background

José Manuel Barroso won unanimous backing from EU heads of state and government at the 18-19 June summit for a second five-year mandate at the head of the European Commission (EURACTIV 19/06/09). However, EU leaders did not formalise his nomination, instead awaiting further negotiations with European Parliament group leaders. 

The newly-elected European Parliament meets for its first session on 14 July and will elect its president on the same day. The European People's Party, the political family of Barroso, had pushed for a vote in support of Barroso in the plenary on 15 July. 

EU leaders instructed the Czech and Swedish EU Presidencies to start negotiations with political groups in Parliament to see whether a majority of MEPs are ready to support him. The Swedish Presidency has invited group leaders to Stockholm on 7 July, for consultations to decide if a vote on Barroso is possible on 15 July. 

Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt is insisting on re-appointing Barroso 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). 

Timeline

  • 7 July: Sweden has invited group leaders to Stockholm for consultations to decide if a vote on Barroso is possible on 15 July.
  • 9 July: Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament to decide whether a vote on Barroso could take place on 15 July.
  • 14 July: Parliament meets for the first time in Strasbourg; vote to elect its president is expected to take place.
  • 15 July: Secret vote on Barroso would take place at the Parliament's Strasbourg plenary if the Conference of Presidents were to agree that it can be held on this date.

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