The European Parliament has confirmed Jose Barroso as the next president of the European Commission on Thursday. 413 of the legislature's 732 members voted for him.
Barroso will become EU Commission president in November
EU leaders agreed on Barroso in June as a compromise candidate to replace outgoing Commission President Romano Prodi. Barroso has since embarked on a charm offensive to win over the various factions of the European Parliament. On Wednesday, the day before the vote, he summarized his plans for the new executive.
Barroso headed a conservative government in Portugal, and many Socialist and Green MEPs are still skeptical about his efforts to present himself as an unbiased, centrist reformer.
“I will not be the president of the right against the left, or the left against the right, that I can promise you,” he said.
But Barroso’s assertive campaign, conducted in fluent French, Portuguese and English, has convinced others to support the Commission’s candidate. When Barroso’s nomination was announced, Irish premier Bertie Ahern gave him his enthusiastic backing.
European Commission President Romano Prodi, right, and Bertie Ahern
“Jose Manuel Durao Barroso has the qualities that are needed for a strong and independent Commission in these times," Ahern (photo, left) said. "I know that he will lead the commission with strength, vigour, and vision.”
Explaining the EU to its citizens
Following record low voter turnouts in the recent European elections, one of Barroso’s key concerns is the need for EU institutions to do a better job of explaining their policies to European citizens. He also told the European Parliament that he hopes to act as a bridge between old and new EU members, as well as between the richer and poorer countries, and urged MEPs to confirm him in his candidacy.
General view of the newly elected European Parliament
“I need your support - not only personal support to me but support to the Commission," he said. "Because we need in this moment of Europe, we need a strong, credible, independent Commission, and the only way to have a strong Commission, to say sometimes no to some member states, is to have the strong backing of the European Parliament.”
“No” has been Durao Barroso's response to leaders who have called for the rewriting of the European Growth and Stability Pact, which ensures the stability of Europe's common currency, the euro.
On Wednesday he referred only to the need to ensure both flexibility and monetary stability, but he has previously stated his belief that the EU’s budgetary limitations, which are being broken with virtual impunity by Germany, France and Italy, should be respected. Guiding the EU constitution towards ratification is also one of his priorities.
From Maoist to war supporter
A former Maoist student activist under the Portuguese dictatorship of Antonio Salazar, Barroso’s politics shifted to the right after the restoration of democracy in 1974. He won his first senior government post at the age of just 29, and had seven years later he had already served as foreign minister. In 1999 he took over the leadership of his conservative Social Democratic Party, winning the election in 2002.
U.S. President George Bush, center, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, second from left, and Spain's Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, right, seen together with Portugal's Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, left, after arriving in the Azores March 16, 2003 to attend a summit to discuss the crisis with Iraq
Barroso supported the US-led war on Iraq, a decision for which he has been heavily criticized both in his own country and abroad, and one he defended in recent days as one of the most difficult of his life. The crisis sparked by his resignation as Portuguese prime minister in June now appears to have been resolved by the appointment of his successor, Pedro Santana Lopes.
His own master
Barroso insists that, as Commission president, he will be his own master. He backed this up on Wednesday by indicating that he would not bow to pressure from Germany to appoint a “super-commissioner” for economic policy´, a position it wants for its current Enlargement Commissioner, Günther Verheugen.
“In a Commission led by me there will be no first- or second-class commissioners,” Barroso said.