Barroso steps up

Portugal’s Social Democratic Prime Minister Durão Barroso has officially accepted the post of new European Commission President, and will replace outgoing President Romano Prodi in October.

Barroso made his announcement at lunchtime on Tuesday: “I would like to inform the Portuguese people that I intend to accept the invitation that has been offered to me by the heads of state and European governments,” he said in a speech to the nation. But his departure as Prime Minister has bitterly divided Portugal’s establishment and prompted opposition calls for fresh elections and protests over his successor.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who has been leading the search for Prodi’s replacement, announced Barroso’s appointment. “Over the last few days, I have been consulting extensively with colleagues and 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 the Irish Premier.

Barroso, a 48-year-old lawyer who is fluent in several languages, has led Portugal’s centre-right coalition government since March 2002. During his consultations with President Sampaio at Belém Palace last weekend, the Prime Minister apparently made the decision to take on his new role after securing a promise that his departure would not signal new legislative elections and would not jeopardise Portugal’s political stability.

The PM had consistently denied he would accept the post, but eventually bowed to the will of other European leaders, who viewed him as a unifying candidate. The German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and British Prime Minister Tony Blair both support Barroso’s appointment. “I am very happy to note that there is overwhelming endorsement of Barroso’s appointment, “said Blair.

Schröder greeted Barroso’s appointment with more measured praise, merely saying Barroso “could depend on sufficient backing” for the post.It had been thought that Barroso’s support of the US-led war in Iraq made him unattractive to some European countries. In particular, his hosting of the pre-war summit on Portuguese soil – in the Azores – had antagonised some European leaders.

Controversial successor

Barroso’s successor looks likely to be Lisbon Mayor Pedro Santana Lopes. But Lopes’ name has provoked considerable controversy and not only among the opposition, who are keen to exploit the situation to their own political advantage. Opposition Socialist Party leader Ferro Rodrigues wants to build on his party’s success in the recent European elections and believes he would stand a From page 1

good chance of victory in the event of a general election. But it is understood that the President has rejected his calls for new legislative elections and has assured Barroso that the political stability of the coalition is not in doubt. For his part, Barroso’s coalition partner, Paulo Portas, the head of the right-wing CDS-PP Party, has also indicated that the coalition would remain intact in the event of a new Prime Minister.

Rodrigues made clear that the government’s internal coup d’état was, in his view,unconstitutional and unethical. “We must bear in mind that the Portuguese people, when they voted, never had the slightest inkling that Santana Lopes could become Prime Minister,” he said.

Even in his own party, Lopes’ appointment is not being universally hailed. Apparently both Luís Marques Mendes, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, and Minister of Finance Manuela Ferreira Leite, have expressed strong reservations about Lopes. In Lisbon, thousands of protestors gathered outside Belém Palace calling for fresh elections and rejecting what they called “self-government”.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s office explained the constitutional situation to The Resident: “The Prime Minister can nominate a successor and the President has to decide whether to appoint him. In so doing, he will select the option that creates maximum stability for the country.” In the case of Santana Lopes, he’s the natural choice as successor because he is the vice-president of the PSD Party, the current number two. The fact that the President Sampaio is also a Socialist will have no bearing on his decision, nor will it mean he is more susceptible to agree to the Socialists’ demand to call elections. “He is bound to be completely impartial,” the spokesperson told us.

The new job

What is his job title?

European Commission President

How long will his presidency last?

Barroso’s appointment will be for five years. He will earn about 290,000 euros a year.

Where will he be based?

In Brussels.

What is his role?

He is the guardian of the treaty’s initiatives and will propose policy issues to the European parliament. He appoints 25 commissioners from each country and distributes their portfolios. It is the most important formal post at Brussels. In addition to being president of the commission, Barroso will also be the Portuguese Commissioner.

What is the presidency of the European Council?

That is a separate post, a six-month rotating presidency in which different leaders from each country take turns to assume the presidency of the council.

Barroso’s C.V.

José Manuel Durão Barroso became politically active shortly after the 1974 revolution when he joined a right-wing group known for its radical opposition to communism. He joined the PSD in 1980 and five years later was elected to parliament. At the age of only 29, he was chosen as Secretary of State for Internal Administration by the then Prime Minister, Cavaco Silva. In 1992, he became Minister for Foreign Affairs. When his party was defeated in the 1995 legislative elections Barroso withdrew from politics, becoming a lecturer at Georgetown University in Washington. But he returned in 1999 to assume the presidency of the party. He became Prime Minister in 2002 when his party won a narrow victory over the socialists.