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Has Europe lost its appetite for Barroso?

At dinner-cum-job interview, Barroso tries to convince member state leaders he should be re-hired.

European Parliament Member Daniel Cohn-Bendit addresses a news conference against the re-nomination for a second mandate of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, at the European Parliament in Brussels, June 16, 2009. (Thierry Roge/Reuters)

BRUSSELS — European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso may be doing more networking than noshing at dinner tonight with the 27 heads of state of the European Union — because they will be discussing his political future. Barroso is facing a last-minute campaign called “Stop Barroso” designed to keep him from staying in his current position.

Last week things looked better for Barroso. He had finally gotten France and Germany to agree that he should be given a second term. Though Barroso is considered the only credible candidate and already had the support of both the outgoing Czech European Union presidency and the incoming Swedish EU presidency, French President Nicolas Sarkozy had been an especially difficult sell. Sarkozy endorsed Barroso last year, then withdrew his support. Recently, flanked by German President Angela Merkel, Sarkozy unenthusiastically re-endorsed Barroso on the condition that he come up with a reinvigorated agenda for the next five years. (Read Barroso’s letter to the European Council outlining his priorities.)

The Commission president will present these ideas at dinner in what’s being described as a sort of job interview with the 27 EU presidents and prime ministers. He’ll then be required to leave the room for their deliberations.

Barroso has not inspired great shows of support from corners other than his own party, European People’s Party, the largest political grouping in the European Parliament. He was a controversial choice for his first term in 2004, and more recently has been criticized for what is seen as an unimaginative approach to the financial crisis, for not shepherding approval of the Lisbon Treaty and even for continuing to drive a big SUV while promoting environmental-protection policies.

At the same time, Barroso's backers say he managed to quell the worst of member states' protectionist impulses during the financial crisis, helped force a deal between Russia and Ukraine in the January gas crisis, and overall represents the best option for continuity during the economic downturn and hopes for a global climate deal.

But Barroso doesn’t just need to cultivate personal approval at this head-of-state summit. He wants speed, hoping that his second term will be approved soon even though his commission’s term ends only in November.

The term will end after a hoped-for re-vote in Ireland on the Lisbon reform treaty. An Irish “yes” could end the hesitation which also holds up the treaty in the Czech Republic and Poland. The treaty's implementation would lead to a new configuration for EU leadership posts.

Though part of the former Portuguese prime minister’s job as Commission president is to campaign tirelessly for EU-wide ratification of the treaty that bears his capital’s name, Barroso's chances for a second term could diminish if he is forced to wait until ratification.

The Lisbon treaty would create a fixed-term president of Council of the European Union, as opposed to the current presidency that rotates between countries every six months, as well as a position that’s unofficially called EU “foreign minister.” If those two positions are up for grabs at the same time as the Commission presidency, it could result in messy horse-trading among political parties and member states.