The European Commission's new president has shown bold political judgement

Share
Related Topics

Jose Manuel Barroso, the incoming president of the European Commission, provoked comment when he broke with Brussels tradition by toiling through the holidays to decide the share-out of jobs for his team. Yesterday, the former Portuguese prime minister unveiled the portfolios for the 24 men and women who will from 1 November steer the the European Union over the coming five years. It appears to have been a summer well spent.

The new Commission president, an unknown quantity outside Portugal when he was chosen for the post, was initially dismissed by some as a "lowest common denominator", picked only because he was the candidate who drew fewest objections. It looked as though he might be a weakling, vulnerable to bullying by bigger governments. But his first decisions show him to be an astute politician, impressively equipped for the wheeling and dealing his job requires.

Like all Commission presidents, Mr Barroso was hampered by not being allowed to pick and choose the members of his team in the way a prime minister would. Governments still jealously guard their right to appoint those they want to reward. In theory, the president enjoys sole power to allocate portfolios. But the political reality is that even in this he had to achieve a delicate political balance, satisfying the big states while also demonstrating that he is not in their pockets.

Commissioners are, of course, supposed to serve in the common interest, leaving their nationalities behind when they disembark in Brussels. In the real world, however, Mr Barroso also had to allay the fears of the smaller countries that power would be carved up between first- and second-class commissioners. And it was vital to offer the newcomer states a reasonable show in the pecking order. Further challenges were to find jobs for 24 commissioners when there are really only about a half a dozen big jobs, and to address the Commission's lamentable gender imbalance. On all counts Mr Barroso appears to have risen to the task. For a start there are eight women; not perfect, but by the standards of most national governments, one-third is not bad.

Mr Barroso also deserves praise for appointing the first-ever commissioner in charge of selling Europe to its citizens. She faces perhaps the biggest challenge of all, as parliaments and electorates in the 25 states are asked over the next few months to approve the Union's first constitution. Britain, France and Germany have been given big jobs. But Mr Barroso shared out the most powerful positions - competition, trade, economy and the internal market - among big and small.

And crucially, in the interests of the euro, he resisted pressure from the French and Germans to be given unfettered oversight of economic policy.

Peter Mandelson is to be the new trade commissioner, a coveted post which will give him the responsibility for managing global trade negotiations on behalf of the 25 EU nations. Arguably, however, it is not the prize it might seem, because Mr Mandelson will have to fend off interference from the powerful new enterprise and industry commissioner - the German, Günther Verheugen, who gains an important co-ordinating role. Mr Mandelson also faces a turf battle when the new European foreign minister Javier Solana takes up his post in 2006.

But the biggest surprise was that Mr Barroso gave charge of competition and the internal market to the Netherlands and Ireland respectively. Both are areas in which the French and Germans have repeatedly clashed with the outgoing Commission in pursuit of their own narrow national interests. This was Mr Barosso's boldest demonstration of the independence so vital to his role, and as such is reassuring. If his first act sets the tone for the rest of his presidency, he will be a difficult president to push around and will safeguard his own position's essential neutrality. Anyone who truly has the interests of Europe at heart will warmly welcome this.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Security Advisor – Permanent – Surrey - £60k-£70k

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

MI Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – £25k-£35k

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job ? This is a new post...

Primary General Cover Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Southampton: We are looking for Primary School ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Photo issued by Flinders University of an artist's impression of a Microbrachius dicki mating scene  

One look at us Scots is enough to show how it was our fishy ancestors who invented sex

Donald MacInnes
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp  

Oscar Pistorius sentence: Judge Masipa might have shown mercy, but she has delivered perfect justice

Chris Maume
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album