The European Parliament overwhelmingly approved the new European Commission led by President José Manuel Barroso today (9 February), clearing the way for the EU executive to take office nearly four months behind schedule.
Legislators voted 488 to 137 in favour of the 26-person team put forward by Commission President Barroso, a move that was widely expected after the Portuguese replaced one of his original nominees last month following MEPs' opposition.
Seventy-two lawmakers abstained.
The Commission, responsible for proposing and enforcing laws across the 27 member states of the European Union, formally begins its five-year mandate at midnight today, a spokesman said.
Ahead of the vote, Barroso urged the 736-member assembly to back his Commission choices and laid out some of his aims.
"The broad priorities are clear: making a successful exit from the crisis; leading on climate action and energy efficiency; boosting new sources of growth and social cohesion to renew our social market economy," he said.
The new Commission will be the second headed by Barroso, who received backing from EU leaders for another term last June and won support from the Parliament in September.
Barroso has made Europe's economic recovery – under the banner of a 10-year jobs and growth programme called the 2020 strategy – the broad focus of the next Commission's work, but individual commissioners will have busy personal portfolios.
Recently, Parliament insiders told EURACTIV that Barroso's portfolio attributions would lead to an unprecedented overlap of responsibilities, seen as a risk factor for the months and years to come (EURACTIV 21/01/10).
Researchers told EURACTIV recently that the new Commission was "more partisan" than the first Barroso team, but this was not seen as a negative development (EURACTIV 11/12/09).
Three musketeers to lead Europe out of the crisis
Three of the most high-profile dossiers will be the internal market job to be handled by France's Michel Barnier, the monetary affairs portfolio to be taken by Finland's Olli Rehn and the competition brief under Spain's Joaquin Almunia.
Barnier has said he plans to tighten regulations in the wake of the economic and financial crisis, a move that has raised concerns in London, Europe's leading financial centre, where banks and financial firms fear excessive restrictions could inhibit their operations and drive participants abroad.
Rehn will be at the forefront of the battle to prevent a full-blown crisis in Greece, where a soaring budget deficit and mounting debt pile have led to speculation in financial markets that the government could default on payments, a move that would have profound repercussions for the euro single currency.
Almunia, the outgoing economic and monetary affairs chief, will be in charge of monitoring mergers and acquisitions and any anti-competitive or cartel-like behaviour in the EU or affecting the EU and its citizens.
Hard work begins under new rules
The Parliament also approved a set of key principles to govern the cooperation between the EU assembly and the Commission.
Parliament and the Commission are currently revising the Framework Agreement that defines relations between the two institutions, including their political responsibilities, the flow of information and legislative coordination.
In the future, for example, Parliament President Jerzy Buzek will be able to attend the weekly meetings of the Commission and President Barroso will attend the Conference of Political Group Presidents once a fortnight or so.
This would happen, analysts say, when topics of mutual interest are concerned, notably legislative and budgetary matters. "This is potentially seismic and it is rumoured that senior people within the Commission are saying that things will never be the same again and that this deal represents a real power gain for the Parliament," sources told EURACTIV.
The fact that the Parliament and the Commission compare notes behind closed doors at the very start of the legislative process, observers argue, could potentially create a trend towards "cooking things in advance and silencing debate in the name of speed, efficiency and common visions".
Recently, critics stressed, more and more EU legislation has been adopted in a single reading (rather than two or three). This state of affairs was criticised by Buzek himself when he was running for election as president and wanted to push back this trend.
Commenting on the cooperation agreement, Buzek noted that "the Framework Agreement set outs the new rules on how the European Parliament and Commission will work together on a daily basis. This new Framework Agreement boosts the Community Method. Agreed for five years, it is a foundation for solid co-operation between two important Community institutions".
(EURACTIV with Reuters.)