Prodi lines up his sleaze-free team

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ROMANO PRODI, the incoming European Commission president, has lost his first high-profile showdown with Gerhard Schroder, the German Chancellor, who has forced him to give a top job to a man he did not want on his team.

After protracted discussions on the composition of the new commission, Germany is nominating its Europe minister, Gunter Verheugen who looks set to secure the trade portfolio. The new, 20-member commission, which will be unveiled formally this week, succeeds the disgraced team which quit en masse in March over allegations of sleaze and cronyism.

Despite pressure for a fresh start, at least four of the old commission, including Neil Kinnock, will be back for another term of office, something which could cause a new confrontation with the European Parliament. Nevertheless Mr Prodi will be able to announce the appointment of at least five women, including the first ever Green commissioner, Germany's Michaele Schreyer, a former senator in Berlin.

With last-minute haggling over jobs still under way, Britain is still pressing for Chris Patten to win an important post, two possibilities are EU enlargement or the external relations portfolio. Neil Kinnock is almost certain to be made a vice-president with responsibility for relations with the European Parliament.

The allocation of jobs was delayed by protracted discussions between Mr Prodi and Berlin, as the new commission president pressed Mr Schroder to nominate a Christian Democrat as one of the country's two commissioners, following centre-right victories in the European elections.

Not only is Mr Verheugen a member of Mr Schroder's left-wing SPD party, he also criticised Mr Prodi publicly last month, accusing him of trying to place people in the wrong jobs. Mr Verheugen had wanted to mastermind the eastward enlargement of the EU but Mr Prodi ruled that Germany's economic interests are too close to that process. The post of trade commissioner is the most likely compromise.

Mr Verheugen's candidacy has delivered one of the first setbacks to Mr Prodi, who will still enjoy more power over his team than any predecessor. The extent of his influence became clear when Emma Bonino lost her bid to win renomination to Brussels, despite a newspaper advertising campaign by her Italy radical party. Because Mr Prodi counts as one of Italy's two commissioners, Massimo D'Alema, the Italian Prime Minister, had to sacrifice one of the country's existing incumbents, Mario Monti, the internal market commissioner or Ms Bonino. Mr Prodi preferred the scholarly and right-of-centre Mr Monti to the feisty, if less predictable Ms Bonino - and won.

Sir Alastair Goodlad, the former Conservative chief whip, was lined up for a job until Mr Prodi made clear he wanted a team of political heavyweights and Mr Patten emerged from the wings. Mr Prodi also favoured the reappointment of some of the current team, including Mr Kinnock, currently in charge of transport, Erkki Liikanen, from Finland, and Franz Fischler, the agriculture commissioner. Mr Prodi has also achieved his desire to see at least five women in his team. Spain has a female nominee, Loyola de Palacio, a well-regarded former agriculture minister. Ireland's front-runner is its former justice minister Maire Geoghegan-Quinn.

The political balance which Mr Prodi wanted has been accommodated, despite the lack of a German Christian Democrat. Several of the new commissioners hail from the centre right, including Mr Patten and Fritz Bolkenstein from the Netherlands.

The European Commission: Fresh Faces And Old Hands

GNTER VERHEUGEN: His new job in Brussels comes a fortnight after he criticised his boss, Romano Prodi

MICHAELE SCHREYER: The first Green to take a commission job is a virtual unknown outside Berlin

CHRIS PATTEN: Ex-governor of Hong Kong, Tory minister and mastermind of the 1992 general election victory

LOYOLA DE PALACIO: Spent years as farms minister battling in Brussels on behalf of Spain's olive growers

MARIO MONTI: Commissioner for the single market, he survived the February sleaze scandal unscathed

MAIRE GEOGHEGAN-QUINN: Former Dublin minister who left front- bench politics to write for the Irish Times