Prodi wins latest battle in Europe's war

AS RESIGNATION threats go, it must rank as one of the most premature in the European Union's history. Two weeks before he was due to become European Commission president, Romano Prodi last week found himself drafting a dramatic threat to quit.

He was surrounded by his most trusted advisers, including his press spokesman, Ricardo Franco Levi, and few doubted his determination to resist a new set of terms from the European Parliament. One ally said: "His attitude was: 'Let's get this straight, rather than agree to this or I am going straight back to Bologna.'"

Less than six months after the implosion of Jacques Santer's discredited Commission, Europe has returned from the brink of another, potentially bigger crisis. The occasion was a set of hearings by committees of the Parliament to approve the 19 nominated commissioners. The catalyst was a phone conversation on Wednesday between Mr Prodi and the leader of the largest group in the Parliament, Hans-Gert Pottering.

The previous day, surrounded by journalists, Mr Pottering suggested that Mr Prodi's team should face not one but two votes. The first would come as planned on 15 September but the second would be in December or January, until which time the Commission would effectively be on probation. Mr Prodi registered his anger with Mr Pottering in a phone call in which the latter refused to give ground. Almost immediately, Mr Prodi and Mr Levi began drafting the statement.

MEPs were outraged at the ultimatum, but Mr Pottering's centre-right bloc soon back-tracked, dropping its double-vote threat and instead calling for concessions to boost the Parliament's role. Celebrations in Mr Prodi's camp continued when Pascal Lamy, the Frenchman nominated as Trade Commissioner, escaped an expected barrage of criticism as centre-right MEPs pulled their punches.

So, did three days of frenzy reveal anything significant? The events are part of a power struggle between a newly self-confident Parliament and a badly damaged Commission. Having forced the sacking of the last Commission in March, the Parliament is on a roll. This is also one of the few occasions when it has clear leverage. The incoming commissioners face a three-hour grilling before a vote on the suitability of the entire Commission. Yet MEPs cannot vote to veto individual candidates and the hearings have not delivered consistent results. Even MEPs agree that the committees have been crowded, with rambling, poorly co-ordinated and politically partisan questioning.

Alan Donnelly, the leader of Labour's 30 MEPs, argued: "In one hearing there were 70 to 80 MEPs who could have asked a question. There was no structure. In [Philippe] Busquin's hearing, the first question was about his activities as president of the [Belgian] Socialist Party. The next about research policy. Later, they returned to questions on the Socialist Party." He favours smaller teams pursuing a line of inquiry, and would like a treaty change so MEPs could vote down individuals.

The Parliament is an unpredictable place, but as one source said: "Enough of the hearings have gone well for the Parliament to give up the idea of deploying a no vote, and to try to attach conditions to a yes vote." The main political groupings are coalescing around demands for Commissioners to be more available to Parliament, and that if MEPs lose confidence in any individual commissioner action should be taken by Mr Prodi.

Most of these suggestions are vague enough to be acceptable to Mr Prodi, and he is now in a strong position to dictate the detail of any new agreement. The former Italian premier has shown that on some issues he would rather quit than compromise - something which has yet to be digested in national capitals as well as in Brussels.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Sport
Brendan Rodgers is confident that Sterling will put pen to paper on a new deal at Anfield
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

Rebranding Christmas

More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up
A Greek island - yours for the price of a London flat

A sun-kissed island - yours for the price of a London flat

Cash-strapped Greeks are selling off their slices of paradise
Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

New system means that evergreen songs could top the festive charts
Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence

Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys

He is a musician of wondrous oddity. He is on a perpetual quest to seek the lost tribes of the Welsh diaspora. Just don't ask Gruff Rhys if he's a national treasure...