Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Ok, this is the pic that should have been posted yesterday. It was a curious glitch.

Barroso, Blair, Bush and Aznar

To the left of the photo you see our new Chairman of the European Commission, read Prime Minister of the European Union, Portuguese PM José Manuel Durao BARROSO. The photo was taken in March 2003 just prior to OIF during the so-called Açores Summit, whereupon Mr. Barroso had invited President Bush, PM Blair and the Spanish PM Aznar. Like I said, Portugals contribution to the liberation of Iraq is rather symbolic (120 policmen), nevertheless Barroso got castigated by the Portuguese for it. He repeatedly angered his countrymen further by vowing not to retreat the officers. His centre-right party was severely punished for this pro-US stance during the recent European elections: with 44% of the votes the rival Socialist Party gained a decisive - and historic - victory.

For taking such an unpopular stance we can certainly forgive him the fact that in his student years he was briefly a member of a Maoist student movement (hey, everyone makes mistakes, even me). It was the early seventies, the final days of the rightwing Portuguese dictatorship, which ended in 1974 with the so-called Carnation Revolution. In 1980 Barroso joined the Social Democratic Party, which in Portugal is center-right. From 1987 till 1992 he was Interior Minister, during which he successfully concluded a Peace Accord which ended 15 years of civil war in the former Portuguese colony of Angola. In 1992, at age 36, he assumed the post of Foreign Minister. The Social Democrats losing the 1995 elections, he briefly lectured law at Washington’s Georgetown University. Back in Portugal, he became Party Leader in 1999. In 2002 he was appointed Prime Minister. His biggest achievement was sanitizing the derailed public finances through strict and sober governance. He is not known as a visionary – Portuguese journalists in Brussels characterize him as “grey” – but he is praised as a tough and tenacious worker.

After the plethora of candidates failed to produce a single all-satisfying Commission Chairman – Barroso’s compatriot, EU Commissioner Vitorino being one of them – Barroso was finally picked as being the ideal consensus candidate – not really angering any fraction and his party a member of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament. This EPP is NOT what the name suggests: a socialist party. The EPP is the Parliament’s Christian Democratic Fraction, which emerged from the June 13 elections as the biggest one. He will assume the EU's most important post on November 1, since Romano Prodi's mandate runs till 31 October. His first task will be supervizing the signing, in November in Rome, of the Constitutional Charter, in short the European Constitution as it is more popularly known. That is the easy part. It then has to be ratified in all member states. In many a country this is bound to happen through referendum, and it can be expected the result in some countries will be "no".

Barroso has literally stated that a unified Europe and the US should be partners rather than adversaries – you will remember that I repeatedly echoed this view. So cheer up, I figure that with the recent enlargement, which further diluted France’s influence, and with Barroso at the helm, a better relationship US/EU can be expected.

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