Asylum and economic fears end Barroso's honeymoon

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The incoming European Commission came under fire yesterday from senior members of the European Parliament, ending the political honeymoon of its president, Jose Manuel Barroso.

The incoming European Commission came under fire yesterday from senior members of the European Parliament, ending the political honeymoon of its president, Jose Manuel Barroso.

The backlash followed comments on immigration by the incoming Italian Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, Rocco Buttiglione. They also reflected criticism in France that Mr Barroso distributed too many senior jobs to economic liberals, who are keen to press for further deregulation. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, joint leader of the Greens in the Parliament, described the Commission as "far more unbalanced politically than any other".

Paris and Berlin were perceived to have lost out in the carve-up of jobs last month, as the main posts of competition, internal market and trade went to nominees from countries with a reputation for liberal economics: the Netherlands, Ireland and the UK.

The complaints are significant because all 24 commissioners face hearings in the European Parliament this month before their appointment is approved and they start work in November. MEPs cannot reject specific commissioners, although they do have a "nuclear" option of throwing out the whole team - something they are unlikely to do. A negative verdict on any individual would still prove politically damaging.

Most criticism yesterday was reserved for Mr Buttiglione who, in a series of interviews, revived the idea once championed by Tony Blair of processing asylum application to European countries in special camps outside the EU. Mr Buttiglione also floated the idea of establishing a new category of economic refugees who could be allowed into EU countries. The comments have infuriated some MEPs because they voted against the idea of asylum camps, which has since been quietly dropped.

Graham Watson, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Parliament, said: "I am of the view that it was rather unwise of him to go public on an issue in his dossier before he was approved, and to argue for something that was rejected by Parliament. If he is seeking confrontation with parliament he can expect a rocky ride."

Hans-Gert Pöttering, the leader of centre-right group that has most MEPs in the Parliament, said he had an open mind on the camp plan but rejected accepting economic refugees. "We cannot solve the problems of the world in Europe," he said.

The camp plan was also rejected by Mr Cohn-Bendit, who said that people would be consigned to "catastrophic conditions" in countries including Libya. He added that the political make-up of the Commission was so unbalanced that Green MEPs would be pushed into open opposition.

He expressed specific concern about the stance of Britain's incoming Commissioner for Trade, Peter Mandelson. "We want to know what are his views on globalisation," Mr Cohn-Bendit said.

Appointed by the controversial Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, Mr Buttiglione can expect to find himself one of the main targets for the left. Mr Mandelson is expected to face a sharp questioning from Eurosceptic Conservative MEPs and from the UK Independence Party.

More alarming for Mr Barroso is the perception in France and Germany that he allocated too many top posts to free-marketeers, and the fear that relations with Paris and Berlin will prove difficult.

Comments