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Europe

Portuguese Prime Minister Likely to Head EU Commission

The search for a new European Commission president seems finally to have come to an end. Portuguese Prime Minister Durao Barroso is expected to fill a position with prerequisites few candidates can satisfy.

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Probably the next EU Commission president: Durao Barroso

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, said Sunday he would propose Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso for the EU's top job at a special bloc summit set for Tuesday evening.

Ahern said there was "overwhelming support" for Durao Barroso. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder stressed Sunday that Durao Barroso "could count on Germany's support," and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was certain Barroso "would do an outstanding job" and that he hoped he would "be able to accept the challenge," The Associated Press reported.

So far Durao Barroso hasn't commented on taking over the reins from outgoing EU Commission President Romano Prodi. Assuming he does so though, Portugal will be faced with the challenge figuring out what to do next, since the country has no clear rules for how to replace him.

Shifting allegiances

In his youth, as a law student under the Portuguese dictatorship, Durao Barroso was a Marxist activist, but already at age 20, his allegiances shifted towards the political center. Durao Barroso completed his law degree in Lisbon and studied political science in Geneva and New York. At 29, after returning from the United States, he was elected to parliament. The following year he was appointed state secretary and later, at 36, foreign minister.

When his party, the conservative liberal Social Democrats (PSD), was voted out of office in 1995, Durao Barroso bridged the time back in the United States teaching at Georgetown University in Washington. But he returned to Portugal and worked his way up in the PSD. His time finally came in March 2002, when the party, with Durao Barroso at its helm, -- barely -- won early elections called after Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Guterres resigned over poor local election returns.

Durao Barroso worked closely with former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, and hosted a meeting between Aznar, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Blair on the Azores in March 2003 that cemented the four countries' decision to cooperate in the Iraq war. Portugal still has 120 police deployed in Iraq, which Durao Barroso recently refused to withdraw.

Horse-trading

The "horse-trading" over who would fill the top EU post has been going on intensely since an EU leaders failed to agree on a candidate at a summit in mid-June. France and Germany insisted that the Commission head be from a country that fully participates in all EU initiatives, which ruled out Britain's Chris Patten, since his country is not part of the single currency. Britain had already succeeded in blocking Germany's choice, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, partly because he was considered too critical of U.S. foreign policy.

France was adamant that the EU president should speak French. The conservative-liberal European People's Party, the largest political group in the European Parliament, demanded a candidate from the center-right. Others pressed for a politician experienced in the highest government levels. Still others asserted that the right person for the job should be from a smaller EU country.

In the end, the 48-year-old Portuguese prime minister fits all the requirements. And besides French, he also speaks English and Spanish.

Unless Durao Barroso's nomination is accepted by all 25 EU heads of state on Tuesday, the European Parliament will have to vote on whether to appoint him, which could happen as early as mid-July. He would almost certainly be approved by the conservative-liberal dominated parliament. He would take office in November.


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