Barroso backs right-wing party in advert

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The Independent Online

Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, has been accused of compromising the political neutrality of his job after campaigning for the Portuguese centre-right party he once led ahead of Sunday's snap elections.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, has been accused of compromising the political neutrality of his job after campaigning for the Portuguese centre-right party he once led ahead of Sunday's snap elections.

Mr Barroso, who quit as Portugal's prime minister last year to go to Brussels, appeared briefly in a television advertisement for the Social Democratic Party (PSD) which is led by his successor as premier, Pedro Santana Lopes.

Until Tuesday, Mr Barroso had avoided the campaign and refused to comment on the election even after holding talks with Mr Lopes. But in the advertisement, the commission president said he wanted to show solidarity with the party he belongs to, adding: "As a Social Democrat I want on this occasion to show my solidarity and my confidence that the PSD will once more be able to carry out its responsibilities.

"It has the conditions once again to guide Portugal on the path of social justice and the path of progress," he said.

Martin Schulz, leader of the Socialist Group which is the second largest bloc in the European Parliament, said: "Mr Barroso has clearly compromised his independence by taking part in this party political broadcast. He has an institutional duty to stand aside from party political campaigning and to serve the interests of Europe as a whole." Mr Schulz called for a review of an EU code of conduct governing the behaviour of European commissioners, and said the commission president risked becoming a partisan figure.

Mr Barroso's spokeswoman Francoise Le Bail insisted that the commission president had not broken any rules and stressed that the television endorsement lasted only 36 seconds. She said: "These are politicians and neither the treaty nor the code of conduct stops them from acting in that capacity. He spoke in a personal capacity and nothing he said could be construed as representative of his position as the president of the commission."

Mr Barroso's decision to publicly back the PSD, which is trailing far behind the opposition Socialists in opinion polls, has divided opinion in Brussels.

The previous commission president, Romano Prodi, was attacked for meddling in Italian politics where he was seen as the opposition's leader in waiting. Those who criticised Mr Prodi for his political activities included Britain's Europe minister, Denis MacShane.

But one EU diplomat said yesterday: "The price for attracting good people to do jobs in Brussels is that you accept that they have political ambitions. Barroso led a centre-right government in Lisbon and was made president of the commission with the support of Europe's centre-right. What kind of fairy tale are his critics in the European Parliament living in?"

Nevertheless, any aggravation of relations with MEPs will be unwelcome. Mr Barroso suffered a baptism of fire in his new job when he had to withdraw his original team of commissioners after one of the nominees, Rocco Buttiglione, described homosexuality as a "sin".

While Mr Prodi went out of his way to court the European Parliament, which has extensive powers to amend legislation proposed by the commission, Mr Barroso is perceived as being more confrontational. Meanwhile opinion polls in Portugal suggest that Mr Barroso has backed a losing candidate.

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