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Europe

Portuguese PM Could Head EU Commission

Portuguese Prime Minister Durao Barroso may become the new president of the European Commission after Irish PM Ahern confirmed his nomination Sunday. German Chancellor Schröder has also signaled approval.

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His low-profile style is said to appeal to EU leaders.

The long search for a successor to Romano Prodi may well be over. On Sunday, Irish Prime Minister and president of the rotating EU presidency, Bertie Ahern said on Sky TV that he intends to nominate José Manuel Durao Barroso to become president of the European Commission.

"I am very pleased to be able to confirm that there is overwhelming support for the appointment of Portuguese Prime Minister Barroso as president of the commission," said Ahern, who added that he had discussed the nomination Saturday night with Durao Barroso.

Ahern indicated that the decision could be sealed on Tuesday after the conclusion of a NATO summit that opens tomorrow in Istanbul. Ahern wants a decision on a succession to Prodi before the Irish presidency ends on June 30th.

Prodi stands down at the end of October and the 25-member bloc's new executive will take over on November 1. The EU's presidency is responsible for proposing a successor. There is no formal nomination or voting procedure.

"Count on Germany's support"

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder who telephoned with Ahern on Sunday, confirmed that Ahern could "count on Germany's support" for Barroso's nomination. Schröder said he was confident that the proposal would find "sufficient approval."

Barosso, who leads a center-right party in Portugal, is believed to be supported by smaller member states and from Europe's center-right establishment.

Schröder also stressed that he had had "intensive talks" with Angela Merkel, leader of Germany's conservative opposition Christian Democratic Union, about the future commission president. Schröder said both he and Merkel were in agreement that it would be good if Germany, as the largest European economy, could "take on a special economic and political responsibility in the EU."

Head of Germany's Greens, Reinhard Bütikofer said it was understandable that the conservatives, the largest fraction in the European parliament, wanted a candidate from their camp to be Prodi's successor. "If the candidate doesn't feel loyalties only to a particular party, but rather to European unity, then we have nothing against him," Bütikofer said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was certain Barroso "would do an outstanding job" and hoped "he will be able to accept this challenge."

A full-blooded European

Barroso, who studied in Geneva and is a multilingual lawyer and veteran diplomat, is believed to fit the criteria set by France and Germany since Portugal is a full member of all EU policies, including the single euro currency.

Though he is not prominent on the European political scene, Barroso is best known for running a tight fiscal policy since coming to power in Portugal in 2002. Barroso imposed tough austerity measures on Portugal after it breached EU budget rules, prompting voters to punish his party in European Parliament elections earlier this month.

Though French President Jacques Chirac has not yet made a formal statement on Barosso's nomination, French diplomats have said he is likely to approve it. "We have nothing against Barosso," a French official told the Financial Times. "He speaks really good French and he meets our criteria that the Commission president should come from a country playing a full role in all the EU's policies."

This despite the fact that Barosso firmly backed the U.S. during the fall-out among European countries such as France and Germany with the U.S. over the Iraq issue. Barroso organized the Azores summit on the eve of the Iraq war, bringing together U.S. President Bush, Britain's Tony Blair and Jose Maria Aznar, the former Spanish prime minister.

Barroso recently refused opposition demands to withdraw 120 Portuguese police deployed in Iraq. "Europe should be a partner for the United States, not a counterweight, and vice versa," he once said.

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