Dispute over commissioners ends after MEPs finally approve Barroso's new team

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The Independent Online

Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, yesterday won the big majority from MEPs he needed for his new team of commissioners, as a three-week political crisis ended.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, yesterday won the big majority from MEPs he needed for his new team of commissioners, as a three-week political crisis ended.

The European parliament voted by 449 to 149, with 82 abstentions, to approve a team that had to be revamped by Mr Barroso after an acrimonious dispute with MEPs last month. The size of the vote, which exceeded the 413 ballots cast for Mr Barroso personally in July, was crucial.

While the Parliament has increased its standing by flexing its muscles in the row, Mr Barroso lost authority, and needed to demonstrate yesterday that his relations with MEPs were back on track.

The new team, which includes the UK's Peter Mandelson as trade commissioner, takes office on Monday. The standoff, which led to three weeks of unprecedented political limbo, was ignited when Italy's nominated commissioner, Rocco Buttig-lione, who described homosexuality as "a sin".

Eventually Mr Barroso was forced to drop Mr Buttiglione, and Latvia's much-criticised nominee, Ingrida Udre. She was replacing by Andris Piebalgs, who became energy commissioner, and Italy's Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, filled Mr Buttiglione's justice and home affairs job.

Hungary's nominee, Laszlo Kovacs, was moved from the energy to the taxation portfolio by Mr Barroso after a parliamentary hearing cast doubt on his competence for the job.

"Whatever our disagreements may have been, I think we can be happy," European Parliament President Josep Borrell said. "We want a new partnership between our two institutions based on mutual respect."

In another small victory for the parliament, Mr Barroso agreed that, if an individual commissioner loses their confidence, he would consider asking them to quit. If he decides against sacking them he will appear before MEPs to explain his reasoning. But they will not have the automatic right to get rid of a commissioner, a step considered anathema by many national capitals.

Mr Barroso said his first priority was to revitalise the EU's stagnant economic growth by helping drive through structural reforms to Europe's economy while preserving Europe's welfare system.

He also promised to improve relations with Washington and said he had spoken with US President George Bush by phone to discuss trans-Atlantic ties. Mr Barroso, who was one of Mr Bush's few active European supporters over the Iraq war, said the re-elected President will probably visit Brussels early in his second term.

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