A dedicated friend of the rich

Observations on the European Commission president

One can see why Tony Blair is so keen on the selection of Jose Manuel Durao Barroso as the new president of the European Commission. The 48-year-old prime minister of Portugal took a pro-war position in the Iraq crisis and hosted the summit in March 2003 at which the world was informed that the US and Britain were going to topple Saddam Hussein. Apart from Italy's premier, Silvio Berlusconi, there is no firmer advocate of economic liberalism in the EU.

But does Blair really know his man? France probably has most to celebrate from Durao Barroso's rise. He hails from one of Europe's most bureaucratised countries which, for more than 200 years, has been run along Napoleonic lines. With a PhD written in French and obtained from the University of Geneva in the early 1980s, Durao Barroso sees the evolution of the EU through the eyes of the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, the finishing school for French bureaucrats.

His vision is a managerial one. To him, European affairs are about competent administrators regulating economics and society. He is not likely to favour the idea of consulting the voters over each step in the integration process. Projects that affect the environment are likely to be far more influenced by the agendas of multinational concerns and French and Italian construction companies than by the concerns of Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth. During Durao Barroso's rise to power in Portugal, developers - sometimes subsidised by Brussels - have been allowed to ravage much of his country's coastline.

At the University of Lisbon in the mid-1970s, he belonged to the arch-Maoist Reorganised Movement for the Party of the Proletariat. He was one of the most implacable members, leading raids against rival left-wing factions during the 1974-75 Portuguese revolution. In 1980, however, he joined the Social Democratic Party (PSD), Portugal's main centre-right force.

Durao Barroso's closest friend outside Portugal is another ex-Marxist, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who this year celebrates 25 years in power in Angola. In this oil-rich African state, life expectancy is 45, millions of children depend on food aid from international charities, and a selfish elite, largely composed of mixed-race Angolans of Portuguese descent, rules in feudal style. Human Rights Watch revealed last year that Angola's rulers had misappropriated $4.2bn (£2.3bn) in the previous five years.

No Portuguese leader has been closer to the Angolan elite. Durao Barroso has been its champion in Washington, DC and European capitals, and was the premier foreign guest when dos Santos's daughter married in January. His message is that Angola must be allowed to democratise and reform itself at its own pace because its oil is vital to the North Atlantic economies, given Middle Eastern instability. A search of news archives will show no outspoken criticism of a regime which, as recently as 1999, spent 26 per cent of its GDP on the military - the highest rate in Africa.

Durao Barroso's appointment is bound to hasten the EU's development into a rich people's cartel. Anyone who believes that the EU should be a force for justice and emancipation in the world should raise their voice against it.

Tom Gallagher is professor of politics in the department of peace studies at Bradford University. His latest book, Theft of a Nation: Romania since communism, is published in November

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