European Commission president José Manuel Barroso’s bid for re-election may be in trouble even though he has no challenger, represents the bloc that did best in the recent elections, and has the pledged support of the EU’s leaders.


Deutsche Welle reports that he was nominated quite easily:

Support for the re-election of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso materialized on Thursday as EU leaders gathered for a formal nomination for the post.  Barroso, at the helm of the European Union since 2004, stands unopposed for a second term, with a number of EU leaders advocating his leadership at a time of economic turmoil.


“We need leadership for Europe,” said Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who is set to take over the rotating EU presidency in July. “This is not the time to pull the brakes. It should be a clear signal that Barroso has the support of the heads of state and governments.”

But Tony Barber, writing in Thursday’s FT, reports,

Even though he has no apparent challenger, the appointment has become bogged down by a power struggle among EU institutions, especially national governments and an increasingly assertive European parliament, which both want influence over the Commission. But it also illustrates divisions of opinion in Europe over how successfully Mr Barroso has managed the Commission since 2004, and whether his consensual style offers the right kind of leadership.


Mr Barroso’s centre-right political allies were the clear winners of this month’s European parliament elections. But they did not gain an absolute majority in the assembly, or even enough votes to guarantee Mr Barroso’s approval by a simple majority. As a result, the centre-right will need the support of some centrist liberals or socialists to ensure Mr Barroso’s reappointment – support that is not yet forthcoming.


Mr Barroso’s critics include leftists who accuse him of having turned the Commission into an apologist for globalisation and who attack his support for the light-touch financial regulation that supposedly contributed to the global credit crisis.

In the view of Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, a former Danish premier and socialist leader, Mr Barroso failed to give a lead during the crisis.

Mr Barroso is blamed in some countries for failed referendums on EU institutional reform that occurred on his watch. French and Dutch voters rejected the EU’s constitutional treaty in 2005, and the Irish voted No to the Lisbon treaty last year.

Likewise, Radio Free Europe’s Ahto Lobjakas sees trouble:

Barroso’s reconfirmation, in theory, should be a foregone conclusion, as he enjoys the virtually unanimous backing of the 27 EU governments and faces no serious contenders.

But there are snags. The fact that Ireland will hold another vote on the Lisbon Treaty in October opens the door to arcane legal complications.  The EU leaders face a choice between appointing Barroso under the terms of the Nice Treaty currently in force, or waiting several months until the Lisbon Treaty takes effect — if in fact it does.


Delaying a decision on Barroso and the commission, on the other hand, could raise the specter of another leadership crisis at a time of continued economic gloom.  Barroso could also face problems in the European Parliament, which must confirm his nomination. There is no clear majority in his favor.

EU leaders are likely to opt for a halfway measure — declaring “political” support for Barroso and risking a confirmation vote in the European Parliament in July, but putting the formal decision off until after October. This has so far been the strategy favored by Germany and France, which appear to reckon that keeping Barroso on his toes could help their representatives land more important portfolios in the next commission. A tussle is developing among the larger EU powers for economic briefs in particular.

In a follow-up today, Barber notes the socialist backlash.

The EU’s 27 national leaders, meeting at a summit in Brussels, voiced their unanimous support for Mr Barroso’s reappointment over dinner on Thursday evening and even treated him to a warm round of applause.

In a 15-minute speech at the dinner, Mr Barroso, 53, a former centre-right prime minister of Portugal, outlined his second-term priorities. He said he saw the EU as a partnership between national governments and a Commission acting robustly in defence of common European interests, but would not want the job if governments attempted to bully the Commission into playing a subordinate role.

But Martin Schulz, a German politician who leads the European parliament’s socialist group, said the swiftly taken decision to re-nominate Mr Barroso was “a political, legal and institutional outrage”. “My group objects to the indecent haste with which the Council [of EU national leaders] is trying to push through Mr Barroso’s appointment, and we will certainly vote against him,” Mr Schulz said.

Der Spiegel‘s Carsten Volkery adds that, “Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who chairs the Green group in the European Parliament, has already called on the EU Council, the council of ministers from all member states, to drop Barroso.”

The obvious response is, So what? Barroso is unopposed and the center-right is easily the largest block. Still, as Barber notes, “they do not control enough seats to be sure of approving his reappointment without support from other legislators.”

Most likely, this means that Barroso will have to make some concessions in order to win enough support in the parliament to put him over the top.  As Volkery notes, “The vote on the president is one of the few ways that the European Parliament gets to exert any real power. And Schulz wants to be able to play this card. The more he ups the ante, the more he can later achieve for the parliament.”  Indeed, such maneuvering worked in 1999 and again in 2004.  It is, after all, the nature of multi-party government.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. 


Related Experts: James Joyner