Pressure on Barroso to deliver high profile posts


EU LEADERS have intensified pressure on European Commission president José Manuel Barroso over his assignment of posts on the incoming EU executive following confirmation of the final nominees by Denmark, the Netherlands and Malta.

Expected within days to complete the allocation of portfolios, Mr Barroso suggested to the European Parliament that EU leaders were campaigning for preferred posts for their nominees.

“Let’s be blunt, all of us are subject to pressures and requests. But at the end of the day I have the final responsibility,” he said during his monthly question-and-answer session with MEPs.

Although the new commission will not start work until the end of January, Mr Barroso wishes to finish the task of assigning posts quickly. “The most probable scenario is that we have an announcement next week,” a well-placed EU source said.

With Britain resisting an apparent deal to hand the powerful internal markets portfolio to French nominee Michel Barnier, the Danish government stepped up pressure on Mr Barroso by making public its demand for the newly-created climate change portfolio. In addition, the Italian government said it wanted the trade post.

Danish prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said his nomination of climate and energy minister Connie Hedegaard as commission nominee was by agreement with Mr Barroso and that he expected she would receive the “climate action” portfolio.

Denmark, which hosts the UN climate change summit next month, has had designs on the post for months. “I have explicitly expressed to him [Mr Barroso] that I expect Connie Hedegaard to become the new climate commissioner,” Mr Rasmussen said.

“It is of course his decision . . . He puts together his commission, but he has confirmed to me that Connie Hedegaard will get a portfolio that matches her experience and qualifications.”

Ms Hedegaard’s selection came as the Dutch government nominated the current EU competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, for a second term. Dutch finance minister Wouter Bos said Ms Kroes had been nominated for a second term because she had performed well and was capable of getting a “good position”.

Commissioners receiving a new term are considered unlikely to be reappointed to their existing post.

Ms Kroes has been tipped for the trade portfolio, vacant because of British commissioner Catherine Ashton’s appointment as EU foreign policy chief. However, Italy’s Europe minister, Andrea Ronchi, said Rome wanted the trade post for its nominee, Antonio Tajani, the current transport commission.

The selection of Ms Hedegaard and Ms Kroes brings to nine the number of women nominees, with Irish commissioner-designate Máire Geoghegan-Quinn among them. This is one more than in the outgoing commission.

The Maltese government named social policy minister John Dalli as its appointee, completing a diverse group of nominees that also includes the current Spanish commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, and the current Finnish commission, Olli Rehn. Mr Barroso told MEPs yesterday that the climate post would be an important one with responsibility to “mainstream” the battle against global warming.

He also said he would split the justice, freedom and security portfolio in two. Justice, fundamental rights and civil liberties will be the first portfolio; the second will be internal affairs (embracing security) and migration.

Britain fears that if the internal markets portfolio goes to Mr Barnier he would move to heavily regulate hedge funds and private equity funds, damaging the City of London. However, France is widely held to have been promised the post in return for its assent to Ms Ashton’s appointment and that of Belgian prime minister Herman Van Rompuy as president of the European Council.