(AFP) – Jul 15, 2008
ROME (AFP) — Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday backed a second mandate for European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and played down recent remarks critical of the body.
"Our candidate is Barroso," Berlusconi said at a joint news conference with the visiting former Portuguese prime minister, whose five-year term ends next year. Barroso, 52, "is the best man yesterday and today," the Italian leader said.
"He's an intelligent and well-prepared man," said Berlusconi, who was bristling with criticism of the European Commission just weeks ago.
"There is much to change in ... the attitude of the European commissioners, who leave governments in difficulties with their declarations," he said at last month's EU summit, his first since returning to power in April elections.
"Governments should not have to find themselves under the newspaper spotlight every three days thanks to their statements," Berlusconi said.
Recalling the remarks on Tuesday, Berlusconi said the press had been "mistaken" in interpreting them as a criticism, adding that he appreciated the "importance" of the European Commission's work.
The government's efforts to save the national airline Alitalia from bankruptcy, the waste disposal crisis in southern Naples and new draconian measures against illegal immigration have sparked tensions between Rome and Brussels since Berlusconi took office in May.
Barroso said he was "surprised" by Berlusconi's expression of support, saying they had not discussed his succession during their talks.
Although Barroso has never said publicly that he would seek another term, his aides have hinted that he would not refuse a second mandate.
Barroso said the decision of who would lead European Union's executive arm was "a decision to be taken by the different political parties" represented in the European Parliament.
Although the parliament has a say in who leads the commission, it is up to EU leaders to ultimately decide.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy last Thursday also voiced his support for a new mandate for Barroso.
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