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Europe

Germany's Verheugen Changes Gears

Germany's Günter Verheugen will soon take on the portfolio for enterprise and industry at the European Commission. The former commissioner for EU enlargement has also been pegged to become one of five vice-presidents.

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He's determined to rise to the challenge

The road from his past position to his new one was anything but easy for Günter Verheugen. When German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder first dropped his name in the hat to become one of the commissioners responsible for the economy, Verheugen showed lttle enthusiasm.

This was in part due to his own realization that he had little in the way of experience to bring to the post. But it was also because of the way he completely threw himself into his former role as EU enlargement commissioner.

"The way that project went, as far as my personal role was concerned, was slightly old-fashioned, with endless, long discussions with numerous contacts, and lots and lots of listening -- and I can add today -- also with a lot of patience that was demanded from me," Verheugen told Deutsche Welle.

It was a historic task, one that turned Verheugen into someone who earned trust throught Europe as an honest broker of expansion. While celebrating his 60th birthday in April, Verheugen already had an inkling that any new duties he might be given would only be more difficult.

"When your work consists of a single large, international project, and you're not dragged into the daily struggles of politics, it's much easier to make a positive impression," Verheugen said, reflecting on how his image benefited from the enlargement process.

A passionate European

In the end, the Social Democrat accepted his new duties. As respected and experienced as Verheugen is, he was a clear choice for the job, even if he himself is only slowly warming to the position.

"I've become such a passionate European, that I'm only too happy to use my experiences, my contacts, my knowledge and abilities to continue to serve the European idea," he said.

The incoming president of the European Commission -- Jose Barroso -- has made it clear that he wants Verheugen to take a central role in forming economic policy. Verheugen's main task will be to ensure that any new EU rules won't unduly handicap EU companies that have to compete with American and Asian rivals. He won't be a so-called "super-commissioner," as Chancellor Schröder had pushed for. That would only provoke others.

Popular at home

Verheugen's name also regularly makes the rounds when important positions at home in Berlin open up. He enjoys the chancellor's respect and has a colorful career on the German political stage behind him.

In the very beginning of the 1980s, Verheugen was secretary general of the Liberal Democrats (FDP), before switching to the Social Democrats in 1982. He was a member of parliament, editor-in-chief of the socialist newspaper Vorwärts, and a deputy minister in the foreign ministry. He's been in Brussels since 1999.

For now though, Verheugen will have to disregard Gerhard Schröder's national interests. He's an EU commissioner, not the agent of German industrial politics. And that's an experience that could prove painful for both sides.

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