Barroso clears way for new Italian commissioner

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By further extending Franco Frattini’s unpaid leave, Commission President José Manuel Barroso cleared the way for incoming Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to nominate his protégé, MEP Antonio Tajani, as his successor.

Franco Frattini, Commission Vice President in charge of Justice and Home Affairs, was granted extended leave without pay until 15 May, leaving Berlusconi enough time to nominate his successor at the Commission.

Frattini, who is set to join the new Italian government as foreign minister, had already been granted leave on 28 March “with a view to the clarification of the situation following the elections in Italy” (EURACTIV 21/04/08). The decision had been taken “in the interest of the institution,” Barroso said.

Commission spokesperson Johannes Laitenberger admitted he was “not aware” of any precedent at the Commission after Barroso announced his decision to extend Frattini’s leave on Monday (28 April). 

The decision also ends all hopes of outgoing Prime Minister Romano Prodi to claim the right to nominate Frattini’s successor. Indeed, it is unlikely that Italy will still be without a new government by 15 May. 

In order to avoid any meddling by Prodi, Frattini also announced he would give up his seat in the newly elected Italian Parliament. According to Commission staff rules, membership of a national parliament is incompatible with the post of commissioner.

But critics claim Barroso did Berlusconi a favour by reshuffling jobs at the Commission. On 22 April, he announced that Frattini’s successor will be in charge of the transport portfolio while Jacques Barrot, the Frenchman who was holding the position until now, will permanently take the justice, freedom and security portfolio previously held by Frattini.

Without the job swap, critics say Antonio Tajani, Berlusconi’s first choice to replace Frattini, would never have stood a chance of being approved by the European Parliament. Socialist and Liberal MEPs had already announced they would fight his nomination because he is considered too rightist for the justice, freedom and security portfolio which requires a wide, cross-party consensus. 

Transport, on the other hand, is perceived as a less sensitive portfolio and so opposition is expected to be lower. However, the fact that the complex Alitalia case will be handled by Berlusconi’s man in Brussels is considered far from ideal.

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