The pressure is still very much on Commission President Barroso to find a compromise in the Buttiglione affair. After consulting several EP group leaders the hunt is on to identify the political ‘small change’ that will satisfy MEPs without offending Rome too much.
After meeting the Commission president on 19 October, a relaxed Martin Schulz, EP leader of the Socialists, claimed that it had now dawned on Barroso that “he has to do something”.
What exactly he meant by this was unclear, but Schulz spoke vaguely of a spirit of compromise, and the EP liberal leader, Graham Watson, with whom Barroso also met, stated that there had to be changes in Commissioner designate Rooco Buttiglione’s portfolio. Barroso also met with Hans-Gert Pöttering, leader of the European People’s Party, prior to the crucial meeting EP president Borrell and all the EP’s political group leaders.
Whereas a complete change of portfolio for Buttiglione appears to be ruled out as too much of a volte face for Barroso to swallow and too intolerable for the sensitivities of the Italian government, several other options are being considered. According to the Financial Times a number of ideas are picking up momentum.
One is to keep Buttiglione in his post, but to cut his powers in areas such as the EU’s charter of fundamental rights and minority issues and transfer them to other commissioners. Another idea is that Barroso could propose a general EU directive against discrimination as a gesture of appreciation.
Finally in the area of political ‘small change’ in the ever lingering power struggle between Commission and Parliament, giving MEPs the power to validate new commissioners who arrive in mid-term, and making it an obligation for the Commission to put new proposals immediately before the parliament are being considered as options. And then there is the idea of a would-be jewel in the crown for the EP: more powers for the Parliament to dismiss ‘incompetent’ commissioners.