Barroso fights for job in Commission row

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The Independent Online

The incoming European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, is in a race against time to revamp his team of Commissioners, amid warnings that his own job could be on the line if he fails to pull off a swift deal.

The incoming European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, is in a race against time to revamp his team of Commissioners, amid warnings that his own job could be on the line if he fails to pull off a swift deal.

Mr Barroso will join European leaders in Rome today at the official signing of the new EU constitution, just two days after agreeing to withdraw his Commission in the face of certain defeat in a vote by MEPs.

Today's ceremony is being staged at a cost of £9m, with television coverage overseen by the film director Franco Zeffirelli and EU leaders due to be ferried to the Campidoglio, the city's town hall, in a fleet of Maserati sports cars.

But the event has been overshadowed by the crisis sparked by Italy's designated commissioner for justice and home affairs, Rocco Buttiglione, who described homosexuality as a sin. EU leaders will discuss the power vacuum over lunch and Mr Barroso will try to have a reconstructed Commission ready for approval in time for a summit in Brussels next Friday.

The withdrawal of Mr Buttiglione is the minimum requirement for winning the backing of the European Parliament, though several other designated commissioners are now destined to be replaced or reshuffled as part of a package.

Yesterday the Italian premier, Silvio Berlusconi, said he would only abandon Mr Buttiglione if others were axed too. "We have to defend him because we can't be the first to step back," the newspaper Il Messaggero quoted Mr Berlusconi as saying. "Other people are also going to have to take a step back. If we are included in a batch of sacrifices then that won't be a problem."

The incoming Commission president knows his position has been weakened by Wednesday's capitulation to the European Parliament. Gary Titley, leader of Labour's 19 MEPs, said Mr Barroso's position would become vulnerable if he does not resolve the crisis swiftly. "He has not shown a good sense of how to handle the European Parliament by making it appear that he is answerable to the Council [of Ministers, where governments are represented] rather than parliament, and by trying to bluff his way through," said Mr Titley. He added: "If he cannot sort it out quickly there will be a rapid loss of confidence [in him]."

The comments will be seen as a warning because Mr Titley's party leader, Tony Blair, was one of the strongest supporters of Mr Barroso for the job of Commission president.

Among other commissioners Mr Barroso will need to shuffle or axe is the Dutch nominee for competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, who has faced accusations of a conflict of interest. Her government was still standing by her last night.

Mr Barroso may be able to take advantage of a political crisis in Latvia to jettison Ingrida Udre, who also came under fire from MEPs. She was nominated by a government which fell yesterday, raising the prospect that the outgoing Sandra Kalniete could remain in place.

The new Hungarian premier, Ferenc Gyurcsany, could probably be persuaded to ditch his country's commissioner-designate, Laszlo Kovacs, who was nominated by the previous prime minister.

The current state of legal limbo could give an opportunity to ditch Mr Barroso, even though he was endorsed by MEPs earlier this year. However diplomats describe that as "premature" and dismissed speculation that Luxembourg's premier, Jean-Claude Juncker, might emerge as an alternative.

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