Barroso ‘can make Commission count again’

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Reappointed President José Manuel Barroso has a unique opportunity to “recuperate the role” of the European Commission and “really influence policymaking” in the coming years, Antonio Missiroli, director at Brussels think-tank the European Policy Centre (EPC), told EURACTIV in an interview.

Missiroli argued that, regardless of whether the Lisbon Treaty is adopted, Barroso’s first two years back in charge present the Portuguese with a “window to make a difference,” particularly given the fact that his first rotating EU presidency countries will be Spain and Belgium, who are “very much Community-minded and will not rock the boat”. 

Barroso has some difficult decisions to make as to how he will structure his second college of commissioners, the EPC analyst said. First, organising external relations will become a tricky task if the Lisbon Treaty comes into force as it will create two new positions – a permanent president of the EU Council and a strengthened foreign affairs chief who will also be external relations commissioner. 

Internally too, the president is faced with an intriguing dilemma: how to address the issue of vice-presidents. 

Re-weighting these positions, currently largely ceremonial, could potentially give Barroso a stronger team in a resurgent, policy-driven Commission, Missiroli said. 

By making vice-presidents the coordinators of some policy areas, effectively grouping a number of commissioners in one policy heading under a strong vice-president, Barroso could “create a more collegial atmosphere in which exposure is diluted and shared”. 

In this scenario, Barroso will have to be clever in handing out vice-presidencies, according to the EPC director. “They shouldn’t all be given to big countries – that would send a very bad message,” he argued, adding that a logical solution would be to give the six big countries three vice-presidencies and three big portfolios, and then give the same to small countries. 

In conclusion, Missiroli argued that in the past decade, “the function of the Commission has changed a little bit,” with a “different institutional/political system wherein the policies that have advanced most over the past 10 years are not policies that fall under the exclusive competencies of the Commission”. 

As a result, “the Commission has had to learn to negotiate with the other EU institutions, and also to become more of a consensus promoter”. 

In the coming years, and in particular if the Lisbon Treaty is approved, “the Commission will have to become ever more of a mediator between the institutions and promoter of the common interest in the best possible sense, rather than executive branch that pushes policy through” – in other words, the Commission will be “co-shaping rather than shaping policy”.

Antonio Missiroli was speaking to Olof Gill.

To read the interview in full, please click here

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