Barroso sings the praises of Bush to sceptical Europeans

Posted in Europe | 18-Feb-05 | Author: Stephen Castle| Source: The Independent

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso talks during a media conference after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels.

President George Bush is "warm", "spontaneous" and better in private than in his "rigid" television appearances, according to Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president,who has embarked on a charm offensive ahead of the US President's visit this weekend. Speaking to The Independent yesterday, Mr Barroso, who is playing a role in an unprecedented EU push to patch up the relationship between Europe and Washington, underlined his desire for the visit to become a symbol of transatlantic rapprochement.

Asked whether a sceptical European public could be won over to the US President, Mr Barroso - who as Portuguese prime minister hosted the Azores summit between Mr Bush and the three EU countries which backed the Iraq war - said: "I think President Bush is much better on personal contacts than on television.

"I could say that to him. He's a warm person, spontaneous, as far as I am concerned," Mr Barroso said. "I think that the chemistry with him is much better in the personal contact than in television, where sometimes he appears too rigid - at least for European audiences. He appears too rigid, that's true.

"One thing the Europeans have to understand is that it is not Europe that elects the President of the United States, it's the Americans. Sometimes the Americans have to understand that it is not the Americans that elect Europe's leaders, that it is Europeans."

Mr Barroso is one of a series of leaders who will meet Mr Bush in Brussels during summits with Nato and EU heads of government.

Following recent elections in Iraq, the EU believes that it has overcome the worst hurdle in transatlantic relations by promising to help support the new government. But key issues still divide the two sides - including EU plans to lift its arms embargo on China and the US's refusal to back the Kyoto Protocol on climate change or the International Criminal Court.

But European leaders want clearer US backing for their policy of engagement with Iran and hope that Washington can be persuaded to contemplate an Iranian bid for membership of the World Trade Organisation.

Mr Barroso conceded that it was not yet clear that the US is ready to work more multilaterally, adding: "Our position is that we have to work together in the framework of global institutions because if we work together, maybe the world is better."

Transatlantic relations had suffered from "misconceptions, some prejudices some stereotypes," said the Commission president, who also backed a call by Chancellor Schröder, the German leader, to improve dialogue with the US by giving European countries a greater say in policy debates.

Mr Barroso also argued that Europe needed a more unified foreign policy if it was to be taken seriously by the US. "I think that the Americans are looking at Europe and trying to perceive if Europe is a global partner," he said.

Mr Barroso rejected claims that he was too keen to court the support of national governments: "I will not engage in a campaign against member states because they are legitimate. But I favour as much as possible an ever-closer union. I support as much as possible the community method - or if you want to use a risky word - the federal method. I am in favour of the federalist method as far as possible."