Page last updated at 12:01 GMT, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 13:01 UK

Profile: EU Commission chief Barroso

By Laurence Peter
BBC News

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso
Mr Barroso lobbied EU leaders hard to get a second term

"Solidarity" is a word never far from the lips of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, once a Maoist student activist in Portugal.

The word serves to underline his commitment to raising living standards across the 27-nation EU, while vigorously defending the single market.

It also reminds everyone that he is a consensus-builder - a key element in his re-election as Commission president.

Now a conservative, the 53-year-old former Portuguese prime minister lobbied hard to get a new five-year mandate.

His credibility will be enhanced by the solid majority he secured in the European Parliament. In the secret ballot, 382 Euro MPs voted for him, 219 against and 117 abstained. He was the sole candidate.

His success followed a clear swing to the right in the European election and a unanimous declaration of support from EU government leaders.

He has pledged to prioritise action to cut greenhouse gases - ahead of crucial global climate talks in December - as well as safeguarding jobs and tightening financial supervision.

Sceptical MEPs

Left-wing and Green opponents failed to put forward a rival to challenge Mr Barroso.

But Greens leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit argues that Mr Barroso's policies have "failed the economy, the environment and democracy".

The Liberals and Socialists also opposed a quick reappointment of Mr Barroso, calling instead for him to explain his programme for the next five years.

Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, said "he's got to go further than simply co-ordinating national policies".

Back in 2004 Mr Barroso emerged as a compromise candidate - because the UK blocked the appointment of Mr Verhofstadt.

Crisis management

Mr Barroso long ago abandoned left-wing politics in favour of economic liberalism and free trade.

Restoring economic stability and growth
Consolidating green targets ahead of December global climate summit in Copenhagen
Developing energy security, especially in Baltic region
Implementing Lisbon Treaty, but avoiding institutional turmoil

But he resents being labelled a "liberal", insisting that he is "a centrist reformer".

Critics say that on his watch the Commission was slow to react to the economic crisis.

But Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, says that the big EU member states were "determined to do their own thing" in the crisis and the Commission's scope for action was therefore limited.

Mr Barroso is the first Commission president to win a second mandate since Jacques Delors, who spearheaded EU integration from 1985 to 1994, laying the foundations for the single market.

But Mr Grant, whose think-tank favours EU integration and reform, says the Barroso Commission has steered the EU through a much tougher period than Mr Delors ever faced.

Euroscepticism has gained ground since then, he says. Mr Delors had backing from strongly pro-integration leaders like Germany's former Chancellor Helmut Kohl and former French President Francois Mitterrand.

Liberalising markets

The EU's enlargement has also made consensus-building more difficult, multiplying the national rivalries and tensions.

"The criticism that Mr Barroso is unwilling to be robust with big governments is sometimes justified," Mr Grant says.

But he praises Mr Barroso's commitment to free trade, competitiveness, energy security and the EU's targets for tackling climate change.

Under Mr Barroso the Commission has sought to liberalise markets in areas where it has power to do so - especially telecoms, energy and postal services.

However, a Portuguese MEP and Socialist, Ana Gomes, argues that Mr Barroso "has lots of ability, but no strong convictions on anything, and he's driven not by money, but by power".

He was "very radical, hard-working and ambitious" as a left-wing student in the 1970s, she told the BBC's Gaelle Legroux. At the time Portugal was in political ferment, after years of right-wing dictatorship.

He graduated in law from Lisbon University and later obtained numerous other academic qualifications.

Ms Gomes believes Mr Barroso's political conversion happened partly because he accompanied his sick father to London in 1974 and the trip widened his horizons.

Mr Barroso switched to the centre-right Democratic Popular Party/Social Democratic Party (PPD/PSD) in 1980 and rose through the ranks.

Once in government he was put in charge of foreign policy dossiers and helped negotiate a ceasefire in Angola.

He served as Portuguese Prime Minister in 2002-2004, throwing his support behind the Iraq war coalition of the US, UK and Spain in 2003.

He is married and has three sons - Luis (aged 22), Guilherme (19) and Francisco (17).

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2018 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific