NEWS

EC president easily survivesMEPs’ vote of no confidence

STRASBOURG – European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and his 24-member team yesterday easily survived a no-confidence vote after he was accused by Euroskeptic lawmakers of misconduct for taking a vacation on a tycoon’s luxury yacht. Only 35 deputies in the 732 member European Parliament supported the motion of censure, which came at a time when the Commission is struggling to limit the fallout from the Dutch and French rejections of the EU Constitution and just a week before a crucial summit of EU leaders. The motion needed a two-thirds majority to pass, but 589 legislators voted against it and 35 abstained. Six such motions have been filed in the Parliament’s history, but none has been successful. British Euroskeptic lawmaker Nigel Farage brought the motion to the European Parliament seeking to force Barroso from office after the former Portuguese prime minister vacationed on a yacht belonging to Greek banking, aviation and shipping billionaire Spyros Latsis. Barroso dismissed the misconduct allegations against him as absurd, unjustified and populist, and said that taking the cruise did not create a conflict of interest. All major political groups in the legislature have denounced the motion, but yesterday they called for greater transparency of the EU institutions. «Europe is too secretive and too opaque; too many decisions are taken behind closed doors,» said Graham Watson, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Parliament. Farage launched the motion because he said he was dissatisfied with Barroso’s explanation of the trip, which came shortly before a Latsis company received EC approval for state aid worth 10 million euros ($12.5 million). The motion censured the entire Commission, as there is no procedure to dismiss an individual commissioner. It was timed to cause maximum damage to the EU around the time of the two crucial referendums. Some legislators who signed had been under pressure from their parties to remove their names, and British Conservative Roger Helmer had been expelled from the European People’s Party, the largest group in the Parliament, after he publicly criticized the group’s leaders. Barroso has acknowledged taking the vacation – worth about 20,000 euros ($25,000) if purchased on the open market – on Latsis’s yacht last summer but insisted he had a right to spend vacations with family and friends. However, when news of the trip broke, he gave up his role supervising EU antitrust issues involving the shipping industry. Last month, the Parliament’s leaders called for a new ethics committee to monitor top officials at EU headquarters.