Gordon Brown nominated Baroness Ashton to be European Commissioner after Peter Mandelson returned to UK government. The reason is clear enough – Brown did not want a by-election that Labour might loose after the Crewe and Glasgow East debacles. After the first reaction (who is Baroness Ashton), thoughts turned to the porfolio she would be allocated. It has now however been confirmed that Barroso will not reshuffle the Commission (as he did when Antonio Tajani replaced Franco Frattini a few months back; Ashton will get the Trade portfolio).

So why was Barroso so amenable to meeting UK demands? Could it be, I wonder, be something to do with Barroso’s impending efforts to be selected for a second term as President of the European Commission? France would be the country that would naturally lobby for a less liberal position to be taken by the European Commission on trade policy, but Sarkozy has already stated his support for a second term for Barroso. Italy was also in a weaker position with regard to Tajani – Berlusconi had already angered Barroso with regard to Rocco Buttiglione, and Berlusconi is not going to be able to muster up a rival to Barroso from with the EPP.

Yet Brown must surely be crucial to Barroso’s chances of a second term. The UK could (and should) side with whoever the PES might like to put forward, yet Blair was a big backer of Barroso in 2004. Is Barroso inclined to play easy on the UK on this one so as to protect his future job prospects?


  1. Igor Guerra

    Indeed Brown’s move has been a speedy reshuffle, while the lenghty appointment of Tajani humiliated the Commission with a long stanby, motivated simply by an obvious tacticism to bypass Prodi.

    Anyway, has President Barroso ever played “tough” with any of the great and good of the Council?

  2. Plus it took ages for the Frattini / Tajani arrangement to be sorted out from the side of the Italian government. At least Brown has been swift with regard to Ashton (who’s already in Brussels trying to learn her brief).

  3. Dr Giacomo Benedetto

    Transport is important, but still a demotion compared to Justice, Freedom and Security. This was a well deserved punishment for the Berlusconi government. For weeks after the Italian election in April this year, Frattini’s leave of absence continued. When the new Italian Parliament first sat a few weeks later, he resigned from it 24 hours before so that he would not lose his place on the Commission, thereby further prolonging his leave of absence and preventing Prodi from nominating Giuliano Amato or Emma Bonino to the Justice, Freedom and Security portfolio.

  4. Interesting analysis. Also notice that transport continues to be perceived as a minor portfolio given the extent of EU competence in this area and how crucial getting it right is to economies across Europe and beyond…

  5. Well then I guess that we agree on the most important matter of all!

  6. We’ll have to agree to disagree on Barroso-Berlusconi.

    On Barroso for another term – I am completely against it, and have argued that it would be stupid to re-appoint him. I sadly think it’s inevitable though.

  7. I personally don’t think that Barroso got an egg cracked on his face. After all, it’s not his fault Italy nominated Buttiglione… I think it reflected negatively on Berlusconi.
    You must recall that this was also at a point when the Parliament was trying reaffirm its power- hence blowing up the Buttiglione issue…
    Also, remember that Italy is one of the big players in Europe. You can’t expect them to get a minor DG, whatever the candidate.
    The Commission has not been tough on Italy- it has been applying EU law where it needs to be applied. The Alitalia case is one of a few in Europe… Including Greece’s Olympic which has also been a long-drawn issue.
    I don’t disagree that Merkel and Sarko are backing Barroso (at the moment). I dissagree that it should be him. And realistically, the person expected to be nominated President of the Commission months before the time comes usually doesn’t get the job. I just think it’s a little early to start making bets; and I remain hopeful!

  8. @Child of Europe
    Sorry, but I don’t agree with your analysis. I don’t think Barroso was against Buttiglione at the start, but no ‘leader’ likes to have egg on their face, and that’s what happened to Barroso. He allowed Italy to keep a major portfolio, only for Frattini to jump ship. Plus the Commission has been reasonably tough on Italy over Alitalia, rubbish in Naples, and competition issues, prompting Berlusconi to whine that the Commission should poke its nose less into national affairs.

    You might be right that there are other EPP candidates, but with Sarko and Merkel probably backing Barroso there’s little chance that any of those will emerge.

  9. The Tajani placement into Transport was not a sign of Berlusconi’s weakness (as is implied- and contrasted with the Mandelson-Ashton case)… Indeed it seems Tajani’s purpose in this position was to solve amongst other airline issues, the Alitalia issue, which is an issue of great importance for Italy.

    Also – when you say that Berlusconi had already angered Barroso with regard to Rocco Buttiglione- I think that it’s probably not accurate. Considering all these people come from the EPP, I don’t think there’s any anger involved. Sure Buttiglione was not a success, and rightfully so, but he was replaced, and that is that…

    I would personally like to see Barroso go. His reign has not been a success, by any measure. The only way that Europe can go forward is by having someone at the helm who knows how to drive.
    Out with Barroso, and let’s also rename the “Lisbon Treaty” to something else… Barroso doesn’t deserve it!

    There’s plenty of candidates to take the spot. And, yes, even from within the EPP.

  10. Jon,

    Did you forget the spirit of the Lisbon Treaty: We EU citizens were supposed to vote in the best candidate put forward by the European level parties.

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