Foreign Policy Blogs

Musical chairs

 Commentators are speculating about the end of the Barroso Commission as we know it. It seems as if he resignation of EU health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou to take up the post as Cyprus’ Foreign Minister two weeks ago was only the beginning. Effective March 14 one of the arguably most successful Commissioners, internal policy head Franco Frattini will take a leave of absence to campaign for Silvio Berlusconi, as he puts in his bid for another term as Italy's prime minister. Frattini's return looks as unlikely as the likely Berlusconi victory, meaning he will have a plush cabinet post waiting for him. EU transport Commissioner, Jacques Barrot, will take over for Frattini during his announced one-month absence, but should speculations prove true, a permanent solution will have to be found.

This news comes only days after the Austrian press published articles insinuating that Members of the European Parliament would be unlikely to support a second term for current Commission President José Manuel Barroso. That might be the least of Barroso's current worries, however, as his term runs until 2009. He might be fretting more over fishery Commissioner Joe Borg's interest in returning to his home country of Malta, following recent elections there. Or, he might be concerned about how long it might take the European Parliament to approve the candidates set to follow in these Commissioner's footsteps, recalling the Rocco Buttiglione crisis, which necessitated a reshuffle at the last minute.

Alternatively, he could be seeing this as a warm-up for the changes to come. Once the Lisbon Reform Treaty is ratified by all Member States, the EU Foreign Minister will be introduced. Only candidate for the post: the current EU chief diplomat (official title: High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy – what a mouthful), Spaniard Javier Solana. His post will necessitate an institutional change, as Solana will move from the Council to the Commission. This in turn might cost two current Commissioners their job: fellow Spaniard and monetary affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia and Austrian external relations head, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who has already taken a back seat to Solana in terms of driving that policy area.

Commentators are seeing the recent developments as a sign of instability, while Commission spokespeople are quick to paint the story in a different light, speaking instead of the distinctive leadership capacity these men and women have that they are called back to ‘national duty’. Naturally, these changes are cannot be compared to the Santer fiasco. Yes, these shifts don't make the Commission seem like the most stable administration, but they are a part of the European political process. Yes, the approval hearings might be drawn out, as the European Parliament flexes its muscle as and holds new candidates to account. Is that likely? No. The Member States have a vested interest in putting forth candidates that will win the support of the parliament and the latter has no interest in stalling the legislative process. The hearings will be another opportunity for the parliament to prove its legitimate role in a ‘normal’ EU political process, however, and if it retains its critical capacity to discriminate and weed out the good from the bad, it will bolster its significance and highlight the normalcy of change in a functional supranational, democratic entity.

 

Author

Cathryn Cluver

Cathryn Cluver is a journalist and EU analyst. Now based in Hamburg, Germany, she previously worked at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, Belgium, where she was Deputy Editor of the EU policy journal, Challenge Europe. Prior to that, she was a producer with CNN-International in Atlanta and London. Cathryn graduated from the London School of Economics with a Master's Degree in European Studies and holds a BA with honors from Brown University in International Relations.

Areas of Focus:
Refugees; Immigration; Europe

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