Thursday, July 29, 2004

Pity poor Señhor Barroso

The man who has been grudgingly (though predictably) accepted by the European Parliament as the President of the Commission was an also ran in the tortuous nomination process. (Presumably the highly moral and sophisticated Europeans will continue to point the finger at the "laughable" and "ridiculous" American process of choosing a President. All in the open. It’s, like, so last century.)

Now Barroso has the unenviable job of creating 24 jobs in the Commission, one for each Commissioner, and allocating them in such a way as not to upset anyone. The big countries will want big jobs for their boys and girls, the small countries will be watching carefully to make sure that their interests are not trampled on. It is, of course, true that Commissioners have to promise to do their duty regardless of their nationality and country of origin but this has never bothered any Commissioner, except, perhaps, the British ones, whose view of what is in Britain’s interests is idiosyncratic.

On top of that, Barroso cannot choose his ministers. They are sent to him by the individual member states after various shenanigans and pork-barrel politics deals.

Some are staying on. The Swedish Margot Wallström, who is responsible for some of the worst pieces of environmental legislation, is having another term, as is Günther Verheugen of Germany. Chancellor Schröder wants him to have a "super" Commissioner's portfolio in charge of economics, in order to put life into the wretched Lisobon process that is meant to make the EU economy the most dynamic in the world by 2012. As Deutsche Welle put it wryly: "So far the effort has produced meagre results."

The newcomers from France and Spain, Jacques Barrot and Joaquin Almunia will probably stay on, with France eyeing the economic or the internal market portfolio. Other Commissioners are beginning to appear. Poland is sending Danuta Hübner, a European negotiator and minister of some experience.

Italy, as we have said before, is sending Rocco Buttiglione as part of a deal between Berlusconi and the junior coalition partner, Union of Christian Democrats. Britain, as is well known, is sending Peter Mandelson for no other reason but that he needs a job and cannot be brought back into the government after two scandalous resignations. Who says we are not good at this sort of game?

Barroso has said that he will not have a tiered Commission. All Commissioners are equal. He has also said that he wants more women. There are now seven and Austria may send the eighth one. He has not said, because that is pointless, that he wants intelligent, knowledgeable, honest politicians. He will not get them.

It seems, however, that he will not be another Romano Prodi. The polite way of describing Prodi’s stint was that he gave freedom to his Commissioners. The less polite way was that he was completely useless, though he knew very clearly what the Commission was for. All those pronouncements about the power and future role of that body, which so irritated commentators in Britain, were quite accurate.

The Commission is the de facto government of the European Union, as guardian of the treaties, sole initiator of legislation and the executive arm, all in one.

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