New Commission: Barroso keeps walking a tightrope

European Commission president Barroso seems to have finished the new line-up for his team. The changes are minimal:

  • Rocco Buttiglione, the controversial Conservative, is replaced by Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini. Buttiglione remains in his current job as Italy’s Europe minister;
  • the Hungarian candidate Laszlo Kovacs, a Socialist whom the European Parliament thought showed too little affinity with his proposed portfolio, moves from energy to taxation;
  • Latvian Ingrida Udre, a Liberal who also failed to convince the EP of her qualifications, is replaced by veteran diplomat Andris Piebalgs, moving from taxation to energy;

Interestingly, Dutchwoman Neelie Kroes, a Liberal, stays on Competition. She was criticised, mainly by the Socialists and Greens in the European Parliament, for alleged conflicts of interest. Unlike Mr Buttiglione, however, she was never rejected by the EP committee that reviewed her candidacy, although in the high-tension days surrounding the-vote-that-never-took-place, the Conservative EPP group in the EP suddenly withdrew its support for her. To me, this has always looked as a political move, stemming from EPP frustration with the fact that the Liberal group withheld its (pivotal) support for the Commission as long as Mr Buttiglione was in it. Conflicts of interest are, after all, not usually a disqualification in EPP circles.

Anyway, as Mr Barroso announced the new line-up at all, we have to assume that EPP group leader Hans-Gert Pöttering has changed his mind (again) about Mrs Kroes, probably after a word with Barroso and one or two Conservative government leaders. In the European Parliament, this does not mean that all EPP members will follow Pöttering and vote for the Commission, but the chances for a majority look better than last time. Mr Barroso keeps walking a tightrope: between giving in just enough to the EP, and changing as little as possible that could upset the Council.

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