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

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform