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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 June, 2004, 22:05 GMT 23:05 UK
Barroso offers EU a fresh lead

By William Horsley
BBC European affairs correspondent

The Portuguese leader, Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, has been plucked from the crowd to be the next European Commission president.

Jose Manuel Durao Barroso
Barroso: More than just a compromise candidate
He has suddenly emerged from the wings to centre stage. There had been whispers that he would be "only second-best" or "the lowest common denominator".

But at his first news conference in Brussels after being unanimously chosen for the job by his fellow heads of government, he showed a firm grasp of EU policies and the sensitive issues of the day, as well as a streak of humour.

Asked which of his four names journalists could drop for brevity, he replied: "Just call me Barroso - pleased to meet you!"

That sense of humour, and ability to keep things in perspective, could be a saving grace.

Barroso has the task of repairing the bureaucratic, remote and sometimes arrogant image of the Commission.

Communicator

The current Commission President, Romano Prodi, is widely portrayed as nice but hopelessly disorganised.

Romano Prodi (L) with
Barroso may find it easier than Prodi to liaise with EU leaders
In five years in office, he has stumbled into open rows with several EU heads of government.

He complained that the Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstaedt, ignored him at press conferences.

He offended British Prime Minister Tony Blair with a speech telling the UK to give up its "special relationship" with the United States.

Worst of all, he was often accused of mumbling or being hard to understand, especially in English.

Mr Barroso has no such problems.

He enjoys the give-and-take of exchanges with journalists in English, French and Spanish as well as his native Portuguese.

And he understands that the EU now needs a healing hand.

Broad appeal

A former Commission president in the early 1990s, Jacques Delors, epitomised Europe's age of high ambition.

Jacques Delors
Delors had many enemies when he held the job
In alliance with leaders in Germany and France, Delors set in train the dramatic moves towards "uniting" Europe, like the Maastricht Treaty and European Monetary Union through the euro currency.

Delors was respected for his intellect and organisation, but he had many enemies.

Mr Barroso has started out trying to reach out to all sides.

He wants to raise the EU's profile in the world without becoming a rival to the United States.

He backed the US-led war in Iraq without antagonising the anti-war camp led by France and Germany.

He wants "moderate" economic reform but insists he is not an economic "neo-liberal".

He laid out a personal manifesto, to bring together the EU's big and small countries, the rich and the poor, and its old and new member-states.

Lucky streak

Mr Barroso faces one more big challenge - the sheer Byzantine complexity of the EU's decision-making system, based in Brussels.

Many a Commission president has been swamped by the vast array of duties, directives and political defeats.

But the 48-year-old Mr Barroso has plenty of self-confidence.

He pointed out to the Brussels press corps that he had been made Portugal's foreign minister at the age of 29, and prime minister two years ago.

"Maybe it's luck," he said with a smile. "But Europe needs luck!"


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