* Belgium's Verhofstadt running for European Commission
* Former PM says nationalism will not help solve EU's
By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS, April 25 The European Union must not
retreat behind national borders to pull out of its economic
slump, said Guy Verhofstadt, a prominent supporter of a federal
Europe who is seeking the presidency of the European Commission.
In a call to counter the rise of populist parties that
reject the power of Brussels, the former Belgian prime minister
said only a stronger EU could end record unemployment and revive
"We are in a deep economic crisis," Verhofstadt said as he
laid out his campaign at a news conference on Friday. "We need
to launch a new leap forward in European integration."
Verhofstadt wants the 28-nation EU to use its scale as the
world's largest trading bloc to strengthen cooperation in areas
from energy to capital markets.
"One example: we need a single energy market, not only
because of the crisis in Ukraine but to be competitive again,"
he said. "We need to use the European Union's advantage of scale
and integrated markets as an engine for growth."
Given the fallout from the 2008 economic crisis, the
European Parliament's elections from May 22-25 have taken on
added significance. At the same time, a new EU treaty has given
the parliament more say in choosing the Commission president.
For the first time, whichever political group emerges as the
largest in parliament will have first claim on the position of
the presidency, although the choice also has to be approved by
Verhofstadt's Alliance of Liberals and Democrats is behind
both the front-runner centre-right group and the socialists,
according to PollWatch 2014, an analysis of polls led by the
London School of Economics and Trinity College Dublin.
But neither the centre-right nor the socialists are expected
to win by enough to easily claim the Commission presidency. They
will need Verhofstadt's support, turning him into a likely king
Maintaining the dominance of the Europe's traditional
political parties will be important, to avoid a fragmented
Parliament peppered with populist parties rejecting European
integration and free-trade deals.
The euro zone crisis and youth unemployment have combined to
propel parties such as France's National Front into the public
debate on an anti-EU and anti-immigrant platform.
"I am optimistic we can avoid an institutional paralysis,"
Verhofstadt said. "If there's no majority in the parliament,
then no one gets to be European Commission president."
Verhofstadt was blocked by Britain in his last attempt to
become Commission president, in 2004, on the grounds that he was
too federalist. His views are still likely to antagonise
Britain, where Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to allow
Britons to vote on whether to leave the EU if he is reelected.
But Verhofstadt is trying to soften his image, saying he
favours cutting back EU bureaucracy where there is no place for
it. He promises to keep out of areas such as national labour and
pensions policy should he become Commission president.
"It is not my ambition to decide the internal order of
nation states," he told reporters. "I don't want the European
Union to decide on the details of a pension reform in France or
whatever reform in Britain."
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Larry King)