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Europe

Opinion: Barroso's Waterloo

The new EU Commission won't be taking office next week as planned. Resistance from the European Parliament prompted President Jose Barroso to withdraw his proposal for a new executive. Are the institutions in turmoil?

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Barroso needs time to reshuffle

Incoming European Commission chief Jose Barroso is expected to make sweeping changes to his team after withdrawing his first line-up Wednesday to avoid a humiliating European Parliament defeat.

The European Parliament appears to have emerged from its extraordinary stand-off with the European Commission the clear winner. Often described as a costly and ineffectual paper tiger, the EU legislature came into its own when faced with the new Commission team.

When Barroso succumbed to pressure from the parliament just hours before the vote on the new commission, the 732-seat legislature proved that it still has muscles to flex.

Better luck next time?

It will be interesting to see whether Jose Barroso has better luck next time. He may be the man directly in the line of fire, but it's up to individual governments to propose acceptable candidates.

Top EU figures have now warned that Barroso will have to do more than replace Rocco Buttiglione, the Italian nominee for justice chief whose conservative Roman Catholic views caused the fuss in the first place. Up to four further commissioners also lack parliamentary support, including Hungarian socialist Laszlo Kovacs (energy) and Dutch liberal Neelie Kroes (competition).

If Barroso decides to send them packing, he will have to ask their governments to put forward new nominees.

It may still be too early to speak of a crisis within the Institutions, but in fact, the 25-nation bloc may now see Barroso himself as part of the problem, a president-elect who has failed to act consistently. Were this to happen, the Institutions may find themselves plunged into unprecedented turmoil

The democratic process

The 732 MEPs, meanwhile, are visibly proud of themselves for having played such a decisive role in the showdown, even though some might argue that what happened is simply part of the normal European democratic process.

The European Council might be allowing the parliament its moment of glory, but it will soon make sure everyone remembers that the European Union's supreme legislature is actually the council.

A surprise turn-around

Barroso's last-minute retreat came as a surprise to many. Just 24 hours after expressing unwillingness to reshuffle his team, he told the parliament he was backing down and reassembling his team.

His move marks a shaky beginning to his presidency and also proves how complex the division of responsibility between Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg is.

Intended to mark the dawning of a new era for the EU, the new constitution, set to be signed in Rome Friday, won't in fact do anything to alter the precarious balance of power.

His detractors say that that Barroso underestimated the parliament. After all, it acts according to national interests as much as party political leanings, which makes it an unpredictable body.

After facing his nemesis Wednesday, Barroso may find his unfortunate miscalculation has cost him his reputation as a strong leader.

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