EU president-to-be kills German hopes for finance supremo

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The Independent Online

The European Commission president-designate, Jose Manuel Barroso, staged his first showdown with the EU's big member states yesterday when he ruled out the creation of an economic super-commissioner, a job coveted by Germany.

The European Commission president-designate, Jose Manuel Barroso, staged his first showdown with the EU's big member states yesterday when he ruled out the creation of an economic super-commissioner, a job coveted by Germany.

The idea for the new position in the European Commission was put forward jointly by Berlin, Paris and London after a three-nation summit meeting in February this year. But on the eve of a vote by MEPs to approve his appointment, Mr Barroso declared: "There will not be first and second class commissioners in a Commission over which I preside."

The comment was been interpreted as a declaration that the former Portuguese premier means to guard his independence from the three biggest member states, which have, at times, dominated the EU's agenda.

Privately the UK may be relieved by the decision, however. After it signed up to the economic super-commissioner plan it became clear that there was a divergence of views in national capitals over the type of job that would be created. While London saw the post as one that woulddrive through structural economic reforms, France presented the proposal as part of a wider plan to create an active policy of government involvement in building up big industrial players.

Germany, a frequent critic of the European Commission's liberal, free-market industrial policy, had laid claim to the post, but it is the new president who has the power to distribute jobs to his team.

Mr Barroso said he would "fully exercise powers conferred on me by the treaty concerning the choice of future commissioners and the distribution of portfolios".

Despite yesterday's pronouncement Mr Barroso may still create vice-presidents in his Commission of the type that exist at present, who have the same powers and voting rights as their colleagues. But, from his perspective, the decision not to have an economic super-commissioner removes the possibility that a dominant figure will create an alternative centre of power. Instead, the incoming president is likely to divide up economic portfolios, including the EU's internal market, giving him the power to offer a larger number of important jobs.

Today's vote in Strasbourg will be watched closely. The Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit called on the Parliament to reject Mr Barroso's appointment and stage a confrontation with the member states. That is unlikely to happen, although the size of Mr Barroso's majority will be scrutinised for indications of the depth of his support among MEPs.

In earlier sessions, Mr Barroso has emerged as a smooth communicator, fluent in several languages, but has been criticised for lacking direction and substance.

Assuming he is confirmed by the Strasbourg assembly, Mr Barroso will begin immediate negotiations with national capitals over the nomination of commissioners and the distribution of portfolios.

In his speech yesterday Mr Barroso said that his team should have "a greater proportion of women than all previous Commissions", although he added that it was up to national capitals to assist him by nominating female candidates.

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