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Catherine Ashton and José Manuel Barroso as the new Commission is confirmed by the European Parliament, 9 February, in Strasbourg. (AFP)

The good, the bad, and Barroso

Having received a green light from the European Parliament on 09 February, the new European Commission is now about to take office. However, România libera complains its functioning may be hampered by a lack of transparency, which surrounded the selection of future commissioners, and the overlapping roles they have been assigned.

Published on 10 February 2010 at 16:16
Catherine Ashton and José Manuel Barroso as the new Commission is confirmed by the European Parliament, 9 February, in Strasbourg. (AFP)

The Commission has always been a hybrid institution. Only since the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty has it begun to emerge as a truly separate entity from the European Parliament and Europe's member states — an authentically executive body that is close to becoming a fully fledged European government. The only glitch is that there is no commissioner for defence. But the countries of the EU have always opposed the idea of a common defense force – and there are no signs that this may change in the near future.

Tuesday's vote marked the final stage in a process that began last year when Commission President José Manuel Durrão Barroso secured the support of Europe's member states for a further five-year mandate, and successfully weathered a European Parliament vote in September. So it came as no great surprise when the European Parliament meeting in plenary session approved the composition of the 26-member Barroso II Commission by a majority of 488 votes, with 137 against and 72 abstentions.

The prospect of internal power struggles

The coordinated vote of the European Parliament's two main political groupings — the Conservatives and the Social Democrats – outraged some of Barroso's opponents, who deplored the lack of transparency that surrounded the Commission and the selection of its members. The leader of the Green parliamentary group, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, dubbed them a "coalition of hypocrites," who had voted for an indecisive and shortsighted Commission. "Mr Barroso divised this Commission to reflect a strategy of divide and conquer," he claimed: "He allocated portfolios without paying heed to the competencies of candidates. Worse still, he moved the commissioners who were doing good work to other jobs."

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According to Cohn-Bendit, instead of working as a team, the fuzzy allocation of responsiblities may mean that the new executive will be torn apart by internal power struggles: and this criticism has been re-echoed by many MEPs who were constrained by party discipline to vote in favour of the Commission. One example of the lack of clarity in the attribution of tasks is the overlap in different fields of external EU policy which may result in conflict between three commissioners - Catherine Ashton (High Representative for Foreign policy), Kristalina Georgieva (International cooperation) and Mr Barroso himself.


A fine balance

José Manuel Barroso had to contend with a wide range of criticisms and demands, and this is a natural consequence of the increasingly politicized nature of the European Parliament. The result of his efforts is a well-balanced team with representatives of the main European political groups, old and new commissioners, large and small countries, recent and long-standing member states. A story that started badly has now reached a satisfactory conclusion – let's not forget the expressions of doubt which greeted the announcement that he was a candidate for a second mandate.

It was a political storm that Barroso navigated with the great tactical ability that has now become his signature. He was fortunate that European leaders' selected two less than heavyweight candidates for the posts that could rival his own. Neither Herman van Rompuy or Catherine Ashton benefit from a sufficient reputation to overshadow his behind the scenes lead — at least not for the moment.

He now has everything he needs to once again enable the Commission to adopt the leading role that was gradually eroded in the course of his previous mandate. At the same time, he will also be fully answerable for Commission decisions in as much as he no longer has to orchestrate a consensus in the European Council — a role that that has now been taken over by Herman van Rompuy. It remains to be seen if he will prove to be as gifted a strategist as he has been a tactician. For the future of Europe, we hope that he will.

Público (extracts)

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