EU leaders gathered in Brussels Thursday for a summit focused on economic reform, but all eyes were on incoming EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who revealed a shuffled list of Commission nominees.
Commission nominations have been a major headache for Barroso
The president-designate of the EU Commission made a bid to win broad support from the European Parliament by shuffling some of the members of the EU executive after controversy exploded over some of his initial choices.
"We are now back on track. We need to get back to work quickly," Barroso told a news conference after presenting his slightly modified line-up to EU leaders.
The most high-profile change is that of the future justice and security chief. Barroso said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini would replace Rocco Buttiglione, whose conservative views on homosexuality and the role of women stirred anger among many EU parliamentarians and threatened to derail the entire Commission.
Barroso also announced that Laszlo Kovacs of Hungary would switch from energy to taxation and a new Latvian nominee, Andris Piebalgs, would take the energy portfolio. Another controversial nominee, Neelie Kroes from the Netherlands, would be retained as competition commissioner.
Meeting at European Union headquarters in Brussels a day after President George Bush was re-elected to the White House, leaders from the 25 member states were just as focused on the future path of US-EU relations as on the set economic agenda.
On the eve of the two-day summit which will include talks with Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, the EU pledged to overhaul transatlantic links strained to the breaking point during the president's first term. Both EU and US officials said they hoped Bush's second term would start out on a much better note and bring the two regions closer together again.
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, who holds the EU's rotating presidency, sent a personal letter of congratulation to Bush. "The United States and the European Union are linked by strong cultural, economic and political ties, and by our shared values... The presidency is confident that this relationship will be further deepened and strengthened under the new administration," it said.
Iraq on the agenda
EU nations have been deeply split over US policy in Iraq, with Britain spearheading support for the war while Germany and France staunchly opposed military intervention. Only recently has the bloc begun overcoming those differences to work for the shattered country's reconstruction.
On Tuesday EU foreign ministers agreed to a package of financial and logistical support initiatives for Iraq ahead of the country's elections planned for January. Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot said the deal showed that the EU was "united again" after its Iraq rift.
Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi
A meeting with Iraqi interim leader Allawi on Friday will help further shore up common EU support for bolstering Iraq's struggling democracy.
In addition to foreign policy issues, the 25 EU leaders are expected to focus on a report by former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok on the so-called Lisbon Agenda, the bloc's grand plan launched in 2000 to make Europe the world's most dynamic economy by 2010.
The report paints a gloomy future, warning that "too many targets promise to be seriously missed."
Nonetheless EU leaders are likely to express renewed commitment to the economic goals and examine ways to press ahead with market-oriented reforms in the face of new enlargement prospects and current difficulties in bringing the 10 newest accession states up to an economic par with the rest of the bloc.
Many leaders will also be looking towards the summit as a good opportunity to resolve the crisis that was sparked last week when incoming European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso was forced to withdraw his proposed executive team due to protests by EU lawmakers.