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EU’s Barroso vows ‘ambitious’ Europe in new term

Brussels — European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso vowed Thursday to work to build an "ambitious Europe" over the next five years, as he made his pitch for a new term in the EU’s most high-profile post.

"Europe is facing stark choices in today’s interdependent world. Either we work together to rise to the challenges. Or we condemn ourselves to irrelevance," he said.

"I will redouble my efforts to make an ambitious Europe happen," he said, in a set of written guidelines on how the next commission would operate under his command.

The former Portuguese premier said his vision of Europe "puts people at the heart of the policy agenda and projects European values and interests in the world."

Barroso, 53, is the only publicly declared candidate for the top EU post. European Union leaders have endorsed him, but he must also receive the backing of the new European parliament.

He has been criticised for his commission’s slow reaction to the financial crisis last year, so his endorsement by the assembly, freshly elected in June and keen to flex its political muscle, cannot be taken for granted.

Addressing the crisis, which sent Europe deep into recession, Barroso said it was important to ensure that the 27-nation EU would develop a "more ethical, robust and responsible financial system."

He said: "The priority now is to continue to sustain demand and stem the rise in unemployment."

He underlined the importance of "keeping interest rates low, and using our state aid rules to support governments in their efforts to revitalise the economy without adverse effects on other (EU) member states.

"It is too early to withdraw these stimulus and support measures to the economy and the financial sector, but an exit strategy must be prepared," he added.

He said his commission would use all means in the new Lisbon reform treaty, which could enter force next year, "to strengthen the convergence of objectives and the coherence of the effects of economic policy, particularly in the euro area.

"Enhanced coordination will be central to a successful exit strategy," he said.

The European Commission is the EU’s executive arm. Based in Brussels, it is responsible for drawing up legislation that impacts on the lives of almost half a billion Europeans, as well as enforcing the rules already in place.

Its president — who like the commissioners is appointed rather than elected — has significant leverage to influence legislative priorities. The commission will have a budget of 138 billion euros (almost 200 billion dollars) in 2010.

The Greens party in the European assembly had led the charge to have Barroso, a conservative, replaced, and he tried to assuage their concerns about global warming.

"The next commission needs to maintain the momentum towards a low emission economy, and in particular towards decarbonising our electricity supply and the transport sector — all transport," he said in the guidelines.

Barroso will explain his programme to parliamentary groups on September 8 and 9, with party presidents examining his candidature the following day. The lawmakers could vote on his future in Strasbourg from September 14-17.

Lorne Cook/AFP/Expatica