Barroso wins over MEPs with charm offensive

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The Independent Online

A trilingual charm offensive by Portugal's outgoing Premier, Jose Manuel Barroso, that lasted nearly 12 hours has made his confirmation as president of the European Commission next week a near certainty.

A trilingual charm offensive by Portugal's outgoing Premier, Jose Manuel Barroso, that lasted nearly 12 hours has made his confirmation as president of the European Commission next week a near certainty.

Mr Barroso emerged from the marathon grilling in the European Parliament with plaudits for a polished performance and an enhanced reputation as a consensus builder, but worries remain that he will not stand up to national governments.

The centre-right former premier needs the backing of MEPs in Strasbourg next week to take up his new post. Officials in the parliament say he is unlikely to lose the vote, though the scale of his victory will demonstrate the depth of support.

Many MEPs were impressed by a near-faultless display in parliamentary committees, and many drew a contrast with the poor communication skills of the outgoing commission president, Romano Prodi. "People listened to Barroso speaking fluently in two [foreign] languages and breathed a huge sigh of relief," a diplomat said yesterday.

But many centre-left wing MEPs are still threatening to vote against him, dismissing his performance as superficial and glib. Alternating between Portuguese and fluent English and French, the 48-year-old political leader went out of his way to woo socialists and Greens. Although he is the architect of Thatcherite economic reforms in Portugal, Mr Barroso described himself as "reformist of the centre", adding: "It is not a crime to be a conservative, but I am not a conservative."

Though he organised a pro-war summit in the Azores with President George Bush, Mr Blair and the then Spanish premier, Jose Maria Aznar, Mr Barroso professed doubts about the US. Despite loving American society, he said: "I hate arrogance, I hate militarism. That, I detest. I don't like unilateralism."

But this was balanced by an insistence that the EU must not be built "against" the US and a defence of the war in Iraq. The Portuguese position was not, he said "militant". Instead, Lisbon was determined not be "neutral between the US and Saddam in the event of a war which we did not like".

And Josep Borrell, the Catalan socialist who is almost certain to be the next president of the European Parliament, made a disastrous start at a debate against his rival, the Polish liberal Bronislaw Geremek, a founder of Solidarity. Daniel Daniel Cohn-Bendit, leader of the Greens, said Mr Borrell's candidature against Mr Geremek was that of "an insignificant bureaucrat against a historic figure".

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