Barroso’s debacle

In withdrawing the incoming Commission minutes before EU lawmakers were to vote on whether to endorse it, President-Designate Jose Manuel Barroso suffered a humiliating defeat. The former Portuguese prime minister, who is himself a moderate (a choice of last resort as EU leaders failed to agree on five or six other candidates), treated MEPs autocratically and contemptuously. Not only did he nominate a Commission that included several controversial members, he also refused to withdraw the candidacy of the ultra-conservative Rocco Buttiglione, the proposed justice commissioner, who came under fire for his scandalous views on women and homosexuals. Barroso was defiant even when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi notified him that Buttiglione had rejected his calls to quit so that a deadlock could be avoided. Barroso thought he could browbeat the MEPs as they do not have the power to block a specific candidacy. However, they can reject an entire Commission, and thereby trigger a serious institutional crisis. Barroso’s decision to challenge the assembly in one of the few areas where it has true leverage was politically naive. His retreat further weakened the Commission and dealt an unexpected blow to the European center-right that backed him. A positive outcome was the damage done to the Atlanticist bloc inside the EU of which Barroso is part. Buttiglione did not draw all the fire. Neelie Kroes from the Netherlands (competition portfolio), who used to be a paid lobbyist for US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, and Latvia’s Ingrida Udre (taxation portfolio) may also withdraw, paving the way for a radical transformation of the new Commission. The current mayhem reduces the political cost for member states, making it easier for them to give Barroso the go-ahead for a less controversial team.