Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Pay off time

Having agreed to the appointment of José Manuel Durão Barroso as President of Commission, the great monsters of EU politics are lining up to demand their reward. After all, despite what the media said, it was not Barroso’s amazing ability to get on with everyone that got rid of any opposition to him getting the job, but the thought that it would be easier to snag a really important and useful portfolio in the circumstances. The Portuguese Prime Minister’s supposed charm and political ability played relatively little part in the final negotiations.

Though technically the Commissioners are not chosen till after the President is approved by the European Parliament, the complicated chess game has already begun.

Germany, as the country with the weakest and most backward economy is angling for the position of the “super-commissioner” for industrial and economic policy. The preferred candidate is Günter Verheugen, present Enlargement Commissioner.

France, too, is angling for an important post. What would be the natural one for it, given the French government’s tendency to bail out illegally failed companies and hand out state aid? The competition portfolio, of course, another “super” job. Their candidate, Jacques Barrot, does not, according to Le Monde, speak English very well (presumably, not at all in reality) and is, therefore, more likely to be given the internal market.

The UK and Poland are also pushing for economic portfolios, which, if the Constitution is implemented, will be very important as employment and economic policies will become EU competence. The Poles would like to see their Commissioner, ardent europhile Danuta Hübner, become a Commission Vice-President. Having overcome their objections to the Constitution, the Poles feel that they need a reward.

On top of all this Barroso will have to come up with some solution of how a Commission of 25 (with only 20 portfolios) can work in any sort of acceptable fashion. He may well wish himself back in Portuguese politics soon. But then, he can always emulate Romano Prodi who unofficially immersed himself in Italian politics long before his term as Commission President expired.

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