The Socialists in the European Parliament yesterday (9 September) insisted on obtaining the EU foreign affairs minister job envisaged under the draft Lisbon Treaty before supporting José Manuel Barroso’s bid for a second term as Commission president.
Barroso, who attended a hearing with the Socialist group ahead of a crucial Parliament vote on his reappointment, fought back by saying he could make no promises as long as the Socialists had no candidate for the position.
Sources in the Parliament told EURACTIV how Barroso withstood the attacks of Socialist MEPs at the session, which was taking place behind closed doors.
The most dramatic exchange took place when MEP Adrian Severin, a former Romanian foreign minister, asked Barroso if he would commit to having a Socialist take the EU foreign minister job envisaged by the Lisbon Treaty, and be ready to resign if this request was not heeded.
Barroso said he was in favour of political diversity at the top of the EU, but added that he could not impose, nor guarantee eventual decisions.
If the Lisbon Treaty is ratified by Ireland, Germany and the Czech Republic, the EU will be represented by three external figures – a president of the European Commission, a president of the Council of Ministers standing for the 27 member states, and a High Representative for foreign policy.
But Martin Schulz, president of the Socialist group, reminded Barroso that his candidacy was backed by a Socialist prime minister in his native Portugal.
“As president of the Commission, you are entitled to negotiate with the heads of state and government about the proposals they make […] So I repeat [the question of my colleague Adrian Severin], because it’s in your best interest: are you prepared to suggest to the Council that in case the Lisbon Treaty is in force, the vice-president and high representative should be a Socialist? Yes or no?,” asked Schulz.
‘Good Socialists and bad Socialists’
Barroso replied that it would not be ‘honest’ for him to give his word without knowing who the candidate was. “There are good Socialists and bad Socialists,” Barroso explained, saying that the same applied to other political groups.
Barroso said he was prepared to propose that a Socialist be nominated as president of the Council, or high representative, because there should be diversity in the representation of political forces in the attribution of high-level posts.
“I can say, please, because I’m well-educated, not because I’m asking […] to take into consideration the diversity of the political forces [when deciding on top EU jobs]. And this means that the Socialist group, one of the two most important forces, should be represented. I cannot do more,” Barroso reportedly said.
Insiders said that after this exchange, they expected telephone diplomacy to take over before the Conference of the Presidents on Thursday morning decides if a vote on Barroso can take place on 16 September in Strasbourg.
The Socialist group president is expected to state whether he will instruct his MEPs to vote for Barroso at 11.00 on Thursday. Several Socialist MEPs have indicated in public statements, in their blogs or on Twitter, that they will vote against Barroso.