‘In any democracy it is normal that there is a government and an opposition,’ says Jose Manuel Durão Barroso at a breakfast seminar on 30 April in Warsaw. The panel meeting has been organised by the centre for European studies (CES), a think tank that works closely with the European people’s party (EPP). Barroso sits sandwiched between Spain's conservative opposition leader Mariano Rajoy and the commissioner for information society and media, Luxembourg's Viviane Reding, for an hour.
At this two-day European EPP congress, the Portuguese president of the European commission has been re-elected as their candidate to run for the president of the commission again. He is said to be ‘proud of the support' he got from his European party and from a number of European socialist prime ministers, including José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero from Spain, Gordon Brown from the UK and José Sócrates from Portugal.
No point being dogmatic
Nevertheless, at questions from those participating in the event, he doesn’t particularly seem to mind the absence of other party candidates, which would of course strengthen the European democratic debate. ‘The commission is the result of a consensus,' he explains. 'It doesn't only have EPP members, but also liberal and socialist party members,’ he explains. ‘Furthermore, in the EU, the system of legitimisation of power is twofold: on the one hand there is the council of Europe, with indirectly elected heads of state and government. On the other, there is the parliament, which is directly elected by the citizens’, he continues. He insists on the fact that in Europe ‘there’s no point in being dogmatic. It’s necessary to reach agreements with all political parties.’
With one month to go before the European elections, neither the socialists nor the liberals have put forward a candidate to preside over the commission. In an intimate press gathering earlier, the president of the French conservative party UMP, Xavier Bertrand, assures us that the debate on the presidency of the commission is a franco-socialist issue. 'Martine Aubry (the secretary-general of the French socialist party, PES) doesn’t have any other campaign promises.’ Having said that, the informal socialist candidate to preside over the commission, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, has received support not only from the Austrian, Hungarian, and Scandinavian socialists, but also the French. In the international media this week, historic Portuguese socialist president Mário Soares clearly stated his concern and disgust at the fact that the PES will not be putting a candidate forward.