Barroso claims his revamped team will now win backing from MEPs

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The Independent Online

The unprecedented crisis over the European Commission moved decisively towards a conclusion last night when two would-be commissioners were dumped and a reshuffled team was announced.

After days of waiting for Italy to choose a new commissioner, the incoming Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, announced his reconstructed team, saying he was confident MEPS would approve it.

Italy and Latvia will replace their designated commissioners, and Hungary's nominee will swap a portfolio for which he was judged ill-qualified.

Though the reshuffle is a modest one, and leaves in post two commissioners who had been criticised by MEPs, it is likely will be enough to satisfy the European Parliament.

Mr Barroso, who has held meetings with key figures in the European Parliament, said last night: "We are back on track" and said he hoped for "broad parliamentary backing".

"I have made necessary and sufficient changes. I have been in touch not only with the governments but also with some group leaders in the parliament."

The leader of the socialist MEPs, Martin Schulz, welcomed the changes and promised to help get approval this month.

The crisis was provoked by Rocco Buttiglione, Italy's nominee as justice and home affairs commissioner, who outraged MEPs by describing homosexuality as "a sin".

When MEPs threatened to veto the entire Commission, Mr Barroso backed off and withdrew the entire team. That left the EU in limbo with the new Commission unable to take office and the old one left in a caretaker mode.

Yesterday the deal fell into place when the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, ended days of wrangling with coalition colleagues in Rome by nominating Franco Frattini, Italy's foreign minister, in Mr Buttiglione's place. Mr Frattini will take over the same dossier, which includes some responsibilities for individual rights.

Latvia's commission nominee, Ingrida Udre, was dumped from her taxation job after a formal request to the government in Riga, and is to be replaced by Andris Piebalgs, a career diplomat.

Mr Piebalgs will swap portfolios with Hungary's commissioner-designate, Laszlo Kovacs, who had been allocated energy but whose lack of knowledge of the subject was revealed in parliamentary hearings where he appeared not to know the meaning of nuclear fusion.

The most notable survivor was the Dutch Commissioner-designate, Neelie Kroes, whose extensive business links have provoked accusations of conflict of interest.

She managed to hold on to her powerful and prestigious job after being defended by the government in The Hague.

Mr Barroso said: "I see no need to change Mrs. Kroes' portfolio. She's an excellent candidate: she brings with her valuable experience."

Denmark's Mariann Fischer Boel, who was also under threat, keeps her agriculture job.

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