STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso won a strong mandate to combat Europe’s economic crisis by gaining a clear majority in the European Parliament on Wednesday for a second five-year term.
The center-right leader clinched a resounding victory with the backing of 382 of the assembly’s 736 deputies, securing the absolute majority he had sought to push through reforms, tighten financial regulations and give the European Union more clout.
The outcome ended weeks of uncertainty, during which his Socialist, Green and Liberal foes tried to block his candidacy, and averted a potential paralysis in the EU’s executive that would have undermined its authority and legitimacy.
“Honestly I think now I have reinforced authority,” Barroso, a 53-year-old former Portuguese prime minister, said after the vote in the assembly in the French city of Strasbourg.
“After five years (that were) so difficult, so difficult politically, economically, having this clear reaffirmation of support — it’s great,” he said.
Barroso had already been endorsed by all 27 EU member states and will now set about forming a new Commission, a powerful regulatory body with a big budget which also initiates laws and represents the nearly 500 million people in the EU.
Despite the clear victory, 219 deputies opposed him and many others abstained after fiercely criticizing his political program. He faces a tough task uniting his opponents behind him and ending the apathy of ordinary Europeans toward the EU.
He also faces a series of challenges, led by pulling Europe out of its deep economic crisis. These will become harder if Irish voters reject the EU’s Lisbon reform treaty streamlining EU decision-making in a referendum on October 2.
Barroso said after the vote that solidarity, freedom and a stronger Europe would be his priorities. He received applause and a flower from deputies.
Barroso, the only candidate, had been all but certain to win the simple majority he needed — half the number of deputies who voted — because his center-right allies are the main force in The parliament.
But he had sought an absolute majority — more than half the number of all deputies in the parliament — to avoid any questions about his legitimacy.
Barroso told the parliament on Tuesday he hoped to steer Europe out of crisis and give it more influence on the world stage. He identified unemployment as a major concern and promised to keep the EU at the forefront of efforts to fight climate change.
He said he planned to create a number of new Commission posts and that the issue of excessive bonuses at financial firms needed urgent action.
Opponents said he was slow to tackle the economic crisis and that his program lacked ambition. They said he had not done enough in his first term to justify a new mandate and had not stood up to the big EU member states enough.
Although some EU leaders say the worst of the economic crisis may be over for now, the Commission expects the bloc’s gross domestic product to contract by 4.0 percent this year.
The EU intends to keep in place for now the measures it took to stimulate Europe’s economy but will soon start drawing up plans to withdraw them.
The EU’s GDP contracted by 0.2 percent quarter-on-quarter in April to June, while Japan technically emerged from recession with 0.9 percent growth in the same period. The U.S. economy shrank 0.3 percent on a quarterly basis in the second quarter.
Editing by Dale Hudson