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Europe

Barroso Lays out Aims for New Commission

Two days after the new European Commission finally started work, new chief Jose Manuel Barroso laid out his plans for a solid and independent commission and made clear his views on the Stability and Growth Pact.

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Barroso vowed that his commission would be "credible and strong"

New European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso reiterated on Wednesday in an interview with Portuguese daily newspaper Publico that he opposes any major changes to euro zone deficit rules in the Stability and Growth Pact, just days after taking up his position.

Barroso argued that the existing rules had greatly benefited the European economy, adding that the pact, which imposes a limit on public deficits of three percent of annual economic output, had contributed to the success of the euro currency and led to low interest rates.

"People sometimes have a short memory. They forget what the successes of the Stability and Growth Pact are. We can't change the character of the pact. We can't touch its main rules," he said. "It would be very bad for the European economy."

Barroso firm on Pact rules and economics

In response to calls from Germany and France for a revision of national deficit calculations to exclude certain payments into the EU coffers, Barroso said, "If people think that by increasing expenses more growth is created, they are fooling themselves," he said, adding low interest rates were the best way to bring about growth.

“There are two contradictory pressures on the Commission: there are those who want to make so many changes that it would represent the end of the pact, there are others who don't want to change anything, they are fundamentalists of orthodoxy," he added. "Both positions are not realistic."

Strong and independent executive

His views follow a statement of intent for his new commission in which he vowed on Tuesday that his new EU executive would be strong and independent, as he reiterated his "full support" for an embattled commissioner.

In his first speech since taking office on Monday under a cloud centered on his French EU transport commissioner Jacques Barrot, he also lamented attacks on his commission which he said had become almost "fashionable."

"In a Europe of 25 (states), the role of the commission and the community method are more important than ever," he told the College of Europe in Bruges -- where generations of eurocrats have been trained -- adding that the EU executive arm must be "independent, credible and strong."

Barroso added that he was all for close cooperation with the other EU institutions, including the European Parliament. But he also said that Europe needs "politicians with a genuine vocation for Europe, able to take on extremism and populism," and also able to avoid joining "attacks against the commission because it is more or less fashionable."

Barrot row clouds Barroso's first day

The row over Barrot clouded Barroso's first day in office on Monday, which had already been delayed by three weeks after EU lawmakers objected to his first-choice line-up for the EU executive.

Bildergalerie EU-Kommissare Jacques Barrot Vice President Transport French

Jacques Barrot.

Barrot has been called on to resign by some EU lawmakers after it emerged that he was convicted, but then pardoned in the late 1990s over the financing of his Social Democratic Center party.

But pressure appears to have eased, notably after Socialists in the European Parliament said they would abide by a legal decision on whether Barrot should be barred from office because of the amnestied conviction.

In a newspaper interview Barroso said he remained fully behind the French commissioner. "I support all my commissioners 100 percent," Barroso told the Belgian daily La Libre Belgique. "Mr. Barrot has my full support. He will be an excellent commissioner," he added.

The French commissioner released a letter to European Parliament president Josep Borrell on Monday in which he strongly denied any attempt to deceive either members of the European Parliament or Barroso by keeping quiet. The letter explained that the conviction had been quashed under a wide-ranging amnesty granted by French President Jacques Chirac, so there was no need to disclose it.

Calls still echo for resignation

While pressure from EU lawmakers has eased, another call for Barrot to quit emerged Tuesday in the form of an editorial from the Financial Times, which said the French commissioner should go for failing to mention the amnestied conviction to Barroso.

"Mr. Barrot's failure to mention the episode either to Mr. Barroso or to the European Parliament has shown an inability to appreciate the need for commissioners to be totally candid if they are to earn the trust of an increasingly skeptical European public," said the influential newspaper.

Problem resolved, say commission figures

Barroso, who has admitted that he had been in the dark over the conviction, reiterated in the newspaper interview Tuesday that the "problem ... has already been resolved," and added: “The arguments which Mr. Barrot has presented to me are sufficient."

EU parliament sources also indicated that the standoff is effectively resolved. "In terms of the substance, the drama is over in the parliament," said Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, president of the Party of European Socialists. "So unless the parliament's legal service comes up with some astonishing news, then the case is closed," added the former Danish prime minister.

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