So we now have a European Commission, a mere eight months after the European elections at the beginning of June last year. It’s been an interminably long process for no particular reason that is immediately obvious.
Yes, we did have the problems with Mrs Jeleva, Bulgaria’s original nominee for Commissioner who proved to be not up to the job at her European Parliament Committee Hearing and has now been replaced by Kristalina Georgieva. While this necessitated another hearing, that’s hardly a good reason for the whole business taking eight months.
The fact that the EU moves slowly is hardly news. More interesting is the decision taken by the ECR (the political group founded and largely made up of British Tories) to abstain when the European Parliament voted to agree the new European Commission yesterday.
Abstention seems a cowardly approach, neither one thing or the other. If you don’t like the new arrangements, have the courage of your convictions and vote against.
Jan Zahradil who spoke on behalf of the ECR during the debate in the European Parliament didn’t manage to shed much light on their pusillanimous behaviour, saying to Mr Barroso, Commission President, “In 2005, you came up with the idea of cutting red tape by simplifying legislation. Why not revive this idea now?” He added “If you demonstrate that you’re a reformer, we shall back you, but if you follow well-trodden paths, we shall stand up and resist you”. If the ECR doesn’t like Barroso, they should, of course, put their money where their mouth is and not hide behind abstaining.
Inevitably there have been criticisms of the way Barroso put together his team of Commissioners and allocated portfolios. I have to say I am not at all happy with the way portfolios do not correspond to the work of European Parliament Committees. For instance, on the Culture and Education Committee we have Mrs. Vassiliou as our main Commissioner covering education, culture, multilingualism and youth. However we also have to deal with Neelie Kroes on the digital agenda and Vivian Reding for some of the wider communication brief including media pluralism. This lack of alignment of portfolios to Committee responsibilities will, I believe, have the effect of weakening European Parliament Committees in their dealings with Commissioners, i.e. Barroso will stand a better chance of getting his agenda through.
President Barroso’s leadership style has, in fact, caused much consternation. The Green Group put forward a motion, which was subsequently rejected, to the plenary session on the European Parliament yesterday. I did, however, agree with some of it, notably its statement that Mr Barroso has weakened the position of individual Commissioners-designate by implementing a policy of divide and rule i.e. by defining and allocating portfolios without proper consideration for their abilities and affinities, and has even moved Commissioners away from portfolios in which, to date, they have demonstrated their competence. This policy has arguably led, inter alia, to the resignation of one of the nominees.
The resolution went on to note that Mr Barroso has reshuffled portfolios within the Commission in a such a way that there is no clear division of responsibility in some key areas, thus confirming the trend towards a presidential model for the Commission, with the risk that the role of individual Commissioners may be reduced to that of advisors to the President, a state of affairs at odds with the spirit of the Treaties. You may at this point be forgiven for thinking that Mr Barroso is seeking to become the real President rather than one of equal status to the EU’s other four presidents.
Meanwhile, here is the new European Commission as approved by the European Parliament yesterday.