MEPs to approve Barroso's Commission

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The Independent Online

After three unprecedented, weeks of crisis, the new European Commission will finally be approved by MEPs today in a vote that will determine whether the incoming president, Jose Manuel Barroso, has restored his authority.

After three unprecedented, weeks of crisis, the new European Commission will finally be approved by MEPs today in a vote that will determine whether the incoming president, Jose Manuel Barroso, has restored his authority.

Mr Barroso, who was forced to sack two would-be commissioners and reshuffle a third, offered MEPs another concession over the circumstances under which a commissioner can be sacked yesterday.

The revamped team is certain to get the go-ahead to take up their posts next Monday. The scale of the parliamentary majority in favour of the new team will reveal whether the debacle has damaged Mr Barroso permanently. The vote marks the end of a saga that began when Rocco Buttiglione, Italy's commissioner-designate, shocked MEPs by describing homosexuality as "a sin".

The European Parliament flexed its muscles, surprising its critics by making it clear that it would veto the entire Commission unless there were changes.

While the crisis has strengthened the parliament, it has raised questions about Mr Barroso's political skills. The urbane, multi-lingual, former premier of Portugal allocated the jobs, and was slow to assuage MEPs' concerns, allowing the crisis to escalate. His authority damaged, Mr Barroso will be hoping for a large majority today. He will want to get at least the 413 votes that he secured when he was approved personally as president in July.

MEPs scored a final, small-scale, victory over their powers to get a commissioner sacked. In a resolution, to be approved today, they will demand that the Commission president agrees to sack any commissioner who loses the confidence of parliament - or appears in the house to justify a refusal to do so.

EU treaties do not give parliament the right to dismiss a commissioner and many governments oppose giving the legislature power to remove national nominees. Mr Barroso said he would repeat an undertaking given by his predecessor, Romano Prodi, that he would "seriously consider" asking a commissioner to resign if parliament withdrew its confidence. He also agreed to appear before the parliament to justify that decision, thereby accepting the terms of the motion.

MEPs say this marks an advance for the parliament because, if they were unsatisfied with his response, they could move a motion of censure. But it does not give them an automatic right to fire a commissioner and does not change the balance of institutional power.

Most MEPs are happy to accept the new team after two countries agreed to replace their commissioners. Franco Frattini, Italy's Foreign Minister, will take over the job once destined for Mr Buttiglione as commissioner for justice and home affairs. Latvia's Ingrida Udre is being replaced with Andris Piebalgs. Hungary's Laszlo Kovacs, whose lack of knowledge about the energy brief he was originally allocated was exposed in parliamentary hearings, will still be coming to Brussels. He will be shuffled to taxation.

Martin Schulz, leader of the Socialist bloc in the parliament, said there remained concerns about Neelie Kroes, the Dutch commissioner-designate for competition whose links with business have led to claims of a conflict of interest.

Monica Frattini, co-leader of the Greens, said Ms Kroes was "very dangerous for the credibility of the Commission" and claimed that she could have to stand back from a significant number of cases. She also attacked the fact that the justice portfolio remains in the hands of an ally of the Italian premier, Silvio Berlusconi. Mr Berlusconi has, she said, "been threatened with eight years in jail for corruption" in a legal case.

The maverick UK Independence Party MEP, Robert Kilroy-Silk, said Peter Mandelson, the British commissioner-designate, was "synonymous with lies, deceit, evasion and spin".

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