I Made the Right Choices for European Commission, Says Barroso
Castle, Stephen, The Independent (London, England)
Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, yesterday backed France's European Commissioner, Jacques Barrot, and said he had no regrets over his handling of a dramatic showdown with MEPs last month.
On his first day in office, Mr Barroso was forced into a strong defence of M. Barrot, whose expunged French conviction over a party funding scandal in 2000 was revealed last week. And, of the row over Italy's Rocco Buttiglione, whose description of homosexuality as "a sin" provoked an unprecedented crisis in the EU, Mr Barroso said he made "absolutely the right choices at all moments".
In an interview with The Independent and other European newspapers, Mr Barroso also put himself on collision course with the British government, rejecting its demands to freeze future EU spending, and supporting moves to spread the benefit of the UK's budget rebate to other countries.
The row over Mr Buttiglione resolved, Mr Barroso has been plunged immediately into a new argument over M. Barrot. His suspended prison sentence was set aside under a presidential pardon which, according to French law, leaves him with a clean record. Though Mr Barroso says he ought to have been told about the conviction in advance, he stood by M. Barrot, who yesterday began work as the transport commissioner.
Mr Barroso said: "I support 100 per cent all my commissioners." He also argued that a letter written by M. Barrot to the president of the European Parliament to explain the circumstances, was sufficient. "The letter responds to all these allegations. I consider the letter gives all the necessary clarifications," Mr Barroso said.
With the socialist group of MEPs appearing to draw back from a fresh confrontation yesterday, Mr Barroso is confident he can avoid another crisis. The former Portuguese premier seemed relaxed, joking that his mandate will be "exciting".
But he was accused of misjudging the crisis over Mr Buttiglione, which prevented his Commission taking office for three weeks. In a meeting room in the refurbished Berlaymont building, he had lost none of his self- assurance. "With the information I had at the time, yes, I made absolutely the right choices at all moments," he said.
He also rejected the notion that the saga illustrated an autocratic style of leadership. "I am not the best person to judge," he said, "but you are going to discover that I am not at all that kind of person. …