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Europe

EU Commission To Focus on Economic Growth

In its first meeting, the next EU Commission set its priorities for the five-year term starting in November. Its policies will promote the economy, but its budget line could put it on a crash course with Berlin.

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Jose Manuel Barroso wants to make Europe No. 1

The European Commission of Jose Manuel Barroso may be new, but its disputes are the same as those of past commissions. Like his predecessor, Romano Prodi, Barroso is demanding a dramatic increase in the European Union's annual budget.

In a newspaper interview published on Friday, the day of the first meeting, the future president said member states should fork over 1.14 percent of their gross domestic product to Brussels, a move that would increase the EU's annual budget from today's approximate €100 billion ($125 billion) to €140 billion by 2013. Such a change would require netpayer countries like Germany to dig far deeper into their pockets.

On Friday, Germany's member of the Commission, Günter Verheugen, criticized the calls for additional money. Though he said he would respect the incoming president's stance, he added that there was also a group of member states -- together representing more than 70 percent of the (EU's) budget resources -- that would call for a reduction in the overall budget. The commissioner said he predicted "long and difficult negotiations" but a compromise in the end.

Berlin repeats call for budget freeze

But so far, no agreement is in sight. Some officials in Berlin have raised their eyebrows over Barroso's assertion that some of the EU's netpayers aren't serious about their refusal to back the Commission's increased budget plans.

Barroso told reporters several European leaders had signaled to him that the refusal was an act of tactical positioning and not to be taken too seriously. Six of the EU's net payers, so called because they pay more into the union than they get back, have demanded the Brussel's budget be capped at 1 percent of GDP.

"I declare there is no reason to change anything about the position of the German government, which is also the position of the five other netpayers, France, Great Britain, Sweden, The Netherlands and Austria," said Bela Anda, spokesman for Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

During their first meeting on Friday, the 25 members of the new European Commission agreed to a strict code of professional conduct that, among other things, prohibits commissioners from doing any other work outside the Commission. The current Commission operates according to a similar code of conduct created following corruption scandal that triggered mass resignations in 1999.

It's the economy, stupid!

Germany's Verheugen praised the set of priorities agreed to by the Commission on Friday.

"My impression of this meeting is that it's extremely positive," Verheugen said. "All of the participants are clear on the work that lies ahead of us, which is mainly to improve the reputation of the institutions, reduce its distance to the citizens of Europe and to concentrate on several truly decisive issues -- especially in areas involving the economy."

The Commission's main priority will be to promote the Lisbon Strategy, which aims to make Europe the world's most competitive economic bloc by 2010. European leaders agreed to the strategy at an EU summit in Lisbon in 2000. The current Commission has largely failed to spark the initiatives necessary to ensure Lisbon's success. Barroso and his new Commission are hoping to change that, but the future president has said he was doubtful the goal could be achieved by 2010.

Though it is already planning its strategy, the incoming European Commission still faces questions from the European Parliament, which must still confirm the composition of the Commission.

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