Opinion: Time to Get To Work | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 19.11.2004
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Opinion: Time to Get To Work

The revamped European Commission is neither the winner nor the loser of the battle in Brussels. The fact is: It now faces some major tasks in the EU, says DW's Bernd Riegert.


It's been a rough ride for incoming Commission President Jose Barroso

The European Union Commission will take up its work this coming Monday -- three weeks late. The power struggle between incoming Commission President Jose Barroso and the members of the European Parliament (MEP) was one-of-a-kind. On Thursday, though, the majority of parliamentarians voted in favor of Barroso's new team.

The Parliament's flexing of muscles was by all means legitimate. But the Commission and assembly now have to tackle the bloc's common tasks together, for example implementing the so-called "Lisbon Strategy."

The European Council adopted this policy in the Portuguese capital in 2000. It aims to make the EU the world's most dynamic and competitive economy.

It came as no surprise that Barroso found support from the majority of MEPs for his revamped Commission. Following the looming defeat in the vote three weeks ago, the incoming Commission president succeeded in getting the EU's heads of state and government to exchange two of the four commissioners criticized by the Parliament.

So it was half a victory for the parliament, as the fiercely attacked Dutch candidate Neelie Kroes remains responsible for competition regulations. Hungary refused to pull back its candidate Laszlo Kovacs. He only had to switch portfolios.

A second chance for Barroso

Former Portuguese Prime Minister Barroso emerges weakened from this showdown. This summer, he started off full of hope and energy, after state and government leaders agreed on Barroso only at the end of a long dispute and an emergency summit. But his egocentric leadership and his lack of diplomatic finesse in dealing with the Parliament has since appalled many in Brussels.

Bildgalerie 50 Jahre Römische Verträge Bild 6 1979 Direktwahlen Das Europäische Parlament

The European parliament in Strasbourg represents the people of Europe.

Barroso now has a second chance, which he wants to use to reorganize his relationship to the Parliament and the Council of Europe. And he has to prove that he will be a stronger Commission President than his predecessor Romani Prodi, who was less assertive.

In the next five years, Barroso wants his Commission to implement the "Lisbon Strategy," promoting economic growth, employment and innovation in Europe. But Prodi already found its implementation a hard nut to crack. The national governments are lacking the will and capability for reforms. In the interest of Europe's citizens, it would be desirable if Barroso had more success.

A conflict of interest

The Barroso Commission will be focussing on competition, the single European market, as well as industrial policies. In this context, the Dutch Commissioner Kroes could turn out to be a burden. She may be competent in terms of expertise. But the parliament will use every opportunity to accuse her of a conflict of interest.

Bildergalerie EU-Kommissare Neelie Kroes Competition Dutch

Dutch Commissioner Neelie Kroes caused quite a dispute among MEPs.

Kroes (photo) held various positions in European supervisory boards, disclosed consultancy contracts only reluctantly and even didn't rule out that she might have to declare herself biased in the case of some decisions. It is already clear now that she will have to stand aside from three significant investigations immediately after taking office next week because of conflicts of interest.

But Barroso also has to prove that the enlarged Commission of 25 members can really work effectively. After all, portfolios were hived off, which were previously under one roof in the old Commission.

Armed for the true opponent

The European MEPs, which this summer were deeply frustrated following the low voter turnout in the European elections, emerge strengthened from the power struggle. They have shown the astonished public that they don't only nod their approval, but can also bare their teeth.

However, the MEPs didn't take themselves that seriously either. Only 680 of the 732 parliamentarians took part in the historical vote. 52 apparently had better things to do.Following this democratic exercise, which didn't -- as many predicted -- end in an EU crisis, the supranational institutions, the Parliament and the Commission, should now once again demonstrate their traditional unity. For the actual opponent is the Council of the European Union, the governments of the member states, which follow their national interests.

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