Looming crisis over the new Commission

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The rejections of commissioner designates Rocco Buttiglione
and László Kovács are
embarrassing blows for incoming Commission President Jose Manuel
Barroso, who has been asked to reshuffle his team.

The chairmen of the EP political groups will come together on 13
October to discuss the results of the European Parliament
hearings. According to parliament sources, following this
meeting Parliament President Josep Borrell will adress a letter to
Barroso with pressing issues he has to address before the
Parliament votes on approving the Commission. 

Former Italian minister Rocco Buttiglione (EPP-ED, Italy),
who has been designated as Freedom, Justice and
Security Commissioner, has raised the loudest objections
because of his conservative views on gays, women and immigrants
(see EURACTIV, 12 October 2004). By 27
votes to 26, the EP civil liberties
committee  has rejected his
nomination as Justice and Home Affairs
Commissioner. Greens, Liberals
and Socialist  MEPs have asked Barroso to move
Buttiglione to another portfolio. 

The poor performance of Energy Commissioner
designate László Kovács (Socialist, Hungary) has led
the industry committee to deem him incompetent for the job,
although this was not formalised by a vote (see EURACTIV, 7 October 2004). In a letter
adressed to the parliament’s President Josep Borrell, the head of
the Industry committee Giles Bryan Chichester wrote that “most
members of the Committee were not convinced by his
professional  competence in the  energy field nor his
aptitude to assume the high office he has been proposed
for”. 

It remains to be seen how Barroso will address these
hurdles. The incoming Commission president is not
expected to decide on a Commission
reshuffle before he meets with the presidents of the
political groups on 21 October. Asked about the MEPs’ rejection of
Buttiglione and Kovács on 12 October, he
said: “I have full confidence in those two members of the
Commisison. They are very able persons with a lot of political and
intellectual experience”.   

There will certainly be a lot of political manoeuvring in the
Parliament with the socialists supporting Kovacs and the EPP-ED
group backing Buttiglione. There is no precedent for what will
happen next. Commission President Barroso may reshuffle
portfolios, make adjustments or even ask Italy and
Hungary to come up with new names. A reshuffle would mean that some
Commissioners may have to undergo further hearings. 

Three other commissioner designates have come under fire
during two weeks of hearings, Dutch competition
commissioner-designate, Neelie Kroes, Danish Agriculture
Commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel, and Latvian taxation
commissioner Ingrida Udre. But the three ladies got the green
light from the committees in which they were heard.

In a press statement, Socialist vice-presidents Hannes Swoboda
and Jan Marinus Wiersma said : "we certainly could not support Mr
Buttiglione in the proposed or  modified portfolio. (...) It
is now up to Mr Barroso to reflect on the deep unease about some of
the commissioners-designate not just in the Socialist group but
right across the house.” A socialist spokesman told EURACTIV that
for his group the Commission set up by Barroso is very weak. "Many
candidates were not well prepared and gave vague answers," he
said. 

 

Marco Incerti from CEPS believes that it is highly unlikely that
the entire Commission will be rejected as this would create a
crisis at a very critical time where the EU is deciding
on whether to open negotations with Turkey and negotating
its budget for the year 2007-2013. For him, "the rejection of
Buttiglione is a way for the Parliament to flex its muscles". He
notes that this can happen because the Commisison is becoming more
politicised and considers that this can help citizens to reconnect
with the EU because they are used to conflicts between the
Parliament and the government at national level. "It makes citizens
feel that their votes matter because they can see that
that MEPs have a say," he said.



The new
Commission, set up by former Portuguese Prime Minister
Barroso, needs the European Parliament's approval before it
can take up its duties. Between 27 September and 11 October,
each of the 25 Commissioner designates went through a hearing with
the parliamentary committee whose area of competence corresponds to
the commissioners' policy area. 


 

  • The chairmen of the political groups will meet tomorrow to
    discuss the results of the hearings.
  •  Commission President Barroso will meet with the
    presidents of the political groups in the EP on 21 October.
  • The Parliament will vote on 27 October on whether to accept or
    reject the 25-strong commission as a whole. It does not have the
    right to veto individual members. 
  • If approved the new Commission will start its five year
    term of office on 1 November. 

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