Greens want true Parliament say on Barroso

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Green leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit called for a proper parliamentary debate on the re-appointment of José Manuel Barroso as Commission president ahead of an EU summit this week, de facto anticipating a procedure foreseen under the EU’s draft Lisbon Treaty.

“We must stop Barroso,” said Cohn-Bendit. “There is no valid reason for making a formal decision to re-appoint him now,” he added, noting that it was totally inconceivable and inconsistent for a Portuguese Commission president who is a great defender of the Lisbon Treaty to be seeking another five-year term mandate under the Nice Treaty.

The European Union is currently in a state of institutional limbo, as it has to make key appointments to the next Parliament and Commission without knowing the legal framework under which it will do so. 

Sweden, which takes over the rotating EU presidency on 1 July, does not want to postpone the appointment of a new Commission president, as it believes the EU needs a strong executive to face the economic recession (EURACTIV 10/06/09). 

But Cohn-Bendit rebutted the argument, noting that the present Commission will mostly deal with current affairs until a new executive is appointed in the autumn. “We are in a different situation, let’s be imaginative,” Cohn-Bendit said, stressing that Parliament has the opportunity to hold a debate which will better define majorities around personalities and issues, rather than parties.

A defiant Parliament?

According to the Green leader, there will be no grand coalition in the European Parliament at the July session to support such an appointment, and EU leaders could face a row with MEPs in July if they decide to formally nominate Barroso. That could send EU citizens and especially Irish voters the wrong signals, ahead of a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty scheduled for the autumn. 

“Europeans need to see the European Parliament meet its democratic responsibility and reject any rushed rubber-stamping of his appointment in July,” said Cohn-Bendit. 

In May, the Parliament adopted a resolution drafted by EPP-ED MEP Jean-Luc Dehaene, which calls for appropriate consultations between the European Parliament and the European Council of EU leaders.

The adopted resolution underlines that the European Council should launch the procedure for nominating the president of the Commission after the EU elections without delay, taking account the necessary time to allow political consultation with the Parliament. The report was approved by a large majority.

Substance as well as procedure

“Beyond procedure, we need a debate on the substance of the new Commission president. President Barroso’s policies have failed the economy, the environment and democracy. We cannot afford five more years of the same,” Cohn-Bendit added, noting that a genuine debate would pave the way for other candidates. 

Behind the scenes, Liberals, Greens and Socialists have started joining forces to prevent José Manuel Barroso from being re-appointed, and instead propose Belgium’s former Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, elected as an MEP in the EU elections.

Cohn-Bendit declined to comment on rumours citing him as the main architect of a Verhofstadt Commission. He reminded journalists that five years ago, Verhofstadt’s candidacy was blocked by a group of EU leaders who, like Barroso, had backed the war in Iraq (EURACTIV 16/02/09).

“Barroso himself was an 11th hour candidate for the Commission presidency, his support for the Iraq war ultimately a deal-breaker. We will not accept a fait accompli – given time, suitable candidates to be his successor will certainly be found,” he added. 

Facebook race

Meanwhile, the contest has reached the social networking arena. Only six days after its launch on 10 June, a Facebook group gathering support for Verhofstadt welcomed its 1,000th member. 

The ‘Verhofstadt for European Commission President’ Facebook group competes with a similar one endorsing current president Barroso for a second term. The latter group has 10 members.

Former European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering last March proposed to EU leaders that the next president of the European Commission be appointed on 15 July, at the very first part-session of the new assembly (EURACTIV 20/03/09). 

More recently, Joseph Daul, chairman of the centre-right EPP-ED group, proposed a grand coalition between the European People's Party (EPP), the liberal ALDE group and the Party of European Socialists (PES) to reappoint Barroso (EURACTIV 09/06/09). 

But the PES has been categorical in stating that it cannot support Barroso. In the event that Barroso is outvoted in the EU assembly's secret ballot, Liberals, Greens and Socialists are joining forces to push for an alternative candidate: former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt (EURACTIV 10/06/09). 

The idea that the new Commission president should be elected under the Lisbon Treaty like the EU commissioners has also gained ground among member states. 

Last week, France and Germany said they would like to see a political decision taken at the next Council on 18-19 June, so that there can be genuine consultation between the European Council and the European Parliament "without an official legal decision being put down in writing" (EURACTIV 16/06/09). 

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