Friday, August 13, 2004

Nineteen, twenty, my plate's empty

They have shared out the portfolios in Brussels. The smart money was right and Mandelson got trade. Verheugen becomes, as predicted, Enterprise and Industry supremo as well as a Vice-President of Commission.

In fact, there will now be five Vice-Presidents (why not all of them?). Margot Wallström of Sweden leaves Environment where she managed to do a great deal of harm to take up a curious portfolio that involves relationship with other EU institutions and communication with the public, in order to improve the Commission’s poor image and overcome what is now generally described as “euro-apathy”. Once it has a name it becomes an institution. She, too, is now a Vice-President.

The Finn Olli Rehn will be Verheugen’s successor as Enlargement Commissioner and will, thus, be in charge of the rather difficult negotiations with Turkey. Neelie Kroes, the former Transport Minister of the Netherlands takes over the Competition portfolio and Denmark’s Marian Fischer Boel, as predicted, is put in charge of the huge Agriculture budget.

Danuta Hübner of Poland takes over Regions, another big-spending department, and Joaquin Almunia is left with the poisoned chalice of Economics and Monetary Affairs. Jacques Barrot with Transport and Energy becomes another Vice-President. Our readers can see the full line-up if they click here.

Barroso announced that he wants to put the “commission in the driving seat of Europe, a Europe that really benefits our citizens”. Well, that’s good to know. Whether the citizens will feel the same way is not entirely clear. After all, Barroso also thought that he was extremely lucky in having a first-class collection of Commissioners. But what makes one feel particularly doubtful is Barroso’s now routine statement about reinvigorating the Lisbon process, “which aims to make Europe the world's most competitive economy (by 2010)”. Despite his free-market credentials, he still has not learnt that a competitive economy is not created by processes decreed and supervised by officials.

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