José Manuel Barrosso today easily won re-election as European Commission president, surprising observers who as recently as yesterday thought he might fall short of a majority and dealing yet another setback to the center-left.
Guardian‘s Ian Traynor:
After months of a power struggle between governments in the EU and the new European parliament, Barroso was awarded a second term with 382 votes in the 736-seat chamber in Strasbourg. He needed 369 for an absolute majority and most MEPs and observers did not believe he would make that. “There were more votes than many expected before,” the 53-year-old centre-right politician said. “Now I have reinforced authority … I will use that capital.”
With the backing of the EU’s 27 governments already assured, Barroso enjoyed the support today of the mainstream centre-right, the biggest caucus in the European parliament, and also of the British Conservatives and their east European Eurosceptic allies, despite the fact that Barroso is committed to the EU’s reform blueprint, the Lisbon treaty, and called for greater EU integration – anathema to the Tories.
The strong mandate secured by Barroso – only the second head of the commission to receive a second term – represented a further debacle for the centre-left in the parliament. Martin Schultz, the German who heads the European social democrats in the parliament, led the campaign over the summer to delay and frustrate a vote on Barroso. But despite his promises that the social democrats could not support Barroso and would abstain, he presided over a divided caucus, many of whom voted for the commission chief. MEPs said at least 25 social democrats voted for Barroso. British Labour MEPs also said they would abstain in the vote, making their support conditional as leverage in trying to coax further political concessions from Barroso. That tactic also backfired. The ballot was secret, making it difficult to measure public declarations against actual voting behaviour.
Three months ago, I noted that “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.” This was because, while the center-right held the plurality in the Commission, they were short of a majority and there was a chance that anti-integrationists, small states, and leftists would form a blocking coalition.
As recently as yesterday, Joshua Chaffin reported for FT, there was a good chance he would fall short of a majority and thus be denied a strong mandate: “Although Mr Barroso’s confirmation is considered secure, several parliamentary observers were late on Tuesday predicting that he would fall short of the 369 votes necessary to claim an absolute majority in the 736-member assembly. Crossing that threshold would allow him to boast of broad popular support and press his agenda as he embarks on a second five-year term.”
Obviously, now that he has indeed crossed that threshold, he agrees.
So, apparently, does BBC which headlined its report “Euro MPs give Barroso new mandate.”
In his acceptance speech, Mr Barroso said that as head of the Commission “my party is going to be Europe”. “Anyone who wants to come on board for this exciting journey, that is the construction of a united Europe, it is with them that I would like to build the necessary consensus to strengthen the European project,” he told MEPs.
Stephen Castle of NYT adds, “The fact that Mr. Barroso won an absolute majority of all deputies — not just a simple majority of those who were present for the vote — means that he is unlikely to face a second vote if the European Union succeeds introducing its new Lisbon Treaty. That treaty would increase the threshold of support needed from the current simple majority to an absolute majority.”