German wins key EU post as members begin battle for positions

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The Independent Online

Germany is set to win the powerful new post of EU economic super-commissioner, after Europe's 25 leaders anointed the Portuguese premier, Jose Manuel Barroso, as the new president of the Commission yesterday.

Germany is set to win the powerful new post of EU economic super-commissioner, after Europe's 25 leaders anointed the Portuguese premier, Jose Manuel Barroso, as the new president of the Commission yesterday.

Britain has made it clear that it has no objection to Germany's current European commissioner for enlargement, Gunther Verheughen, if he is nominated to the new economic post for which Berlin has been lobbying.

That removes a major obstacle for Berlin, since Britain was one of the nations that might have taken the post.

The new Commission president said he had held discussions with member states over their requests for posts in his team. Mr Barroso, alone, has the power to allocate portfolios.

With Mr Barroso arriving in Brussels with a reputation as an economic liberal, Germany is said to have accepted his candidature on condition it is given the post of vice-president for economic affairs. Berlin has had a series of rows with the Commission over industrial and competition policy and is determined to increase its influence in that sphere.

As he accepted his new post Mr Barroso conceded: "I was approached by some of my colleagues. I have listened to them. But formal assurances I cannot give them."

Mr Barroso said that decisions would only be made when he has been endorsed by the European Parliament which meets on 20 July.

Nevertheless the appointment of the new Commission president will start a scramble for the top posts, with France, Britain and Poland likely to lobby for "super-commissioners" - or vice-presidents - in the restructured team.

During yesterday's summit of barely half an hour in Brussels, EU leaders also agreed to re-appoint Javier Solana, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, and designate him as the EU's first foreign minister when the EU's constitution is ratified and the post comes into force. His deputy, Pierre de Boissieu, was also re-appointed to a powerful, behind-the-scenes role in the European Council.

Almost unknown outside Portugal, Mr Barroso only got the job as a compromise candidate after Tony Blair helped block the Franco-German candidate, Guy Verhofstadt. He was accepted reluctantly by the French President, Jacques Chirac, who had insisted that the job went to a candidate from a country inside the main areas of European integration, including the eurozone and the Schengen free travel area.

The new Commission president rejected the charge of being the lowest common denominator candidate, saying that he would prefer to have a consensus behind him than a narrow margin of support.

Mr Blair, one of his strongest backers, said: "I think Mr Barroso is the right person - he's someone who shows a strong belief in economic reform as well as jobs and social justice. He knows Europe has to reform itself. Mr Barroso is a believer in the alliance with the United States, as well as obviously ensuring we work together as an European Union."

British officials see the success of Mr Barroso as a turning point because his support for the US-led war in Iraq did not derail his candidature.

The new Commission president said his election showed that the EU had overcome its divisions over the iraq conflict.

He also promised to "balance" his support for the Lisbon process of economic reform with the wider needs of "solidarity in Europe", adding that there is no contradiction between being "ambitious and pragmatic".

Asked about his past as a Maoist student leader, Mr Barroso said: "I am not ashamed of what I did in those revolutionary times in the law school of Lisbon. I was 18 years old. I am a moderate now." Aged 48, Mr Barroso will become the 11th president of the European Commission and only the second from outside the six founder countries - Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

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