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28 October 2004 Edition

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EU Commission rejected - Barroso bows to MEPs' pressure

n the face of mounting left wing pressure, incoming EU Commission President José Barroso has backed down from a showdown with MEPs over the appointment of controversial Justice, Security and Peace nominee Rocco Buttiglione and the rest of the proposed EU Commission, to avoid inevitable defeat. This serious setback for the Commission has thrown the EU into legal and political crisis, with EU Treaties requiring the Commissoners be in place by 1 November.

Spearheading opposition to the proposed Commission has been Sinn Féin's Group in the European Parliament, United Left, which has been one of the few Groups to remain undivided in the face of intense pressure from Barroso and the European bureaucracy.

It was Buttiglione's hardline conservative and Catholic politics that sparked the clash between the Parliament and the Commission. Throughout his political career, the Italian politician has allowed his personal religious beliefs to dictate political policies, including opposition to sexual discrimination laws, rights for homosexuals and policies on immigrants and asylum bordering on xenophobic.

Barroso has indicated his intention to reshuffle the portfolios of his 25 nominee Commissioners, with Buttiglione widely expected to be moved from Justice. But by reopening the allocation of portfolios, Barroso will have to enter a period of serious horsetrading with the Governments and the Parliament to hammer out a compromise Commission.

The development was welcomed by Sinn Féin MEPs Mary Lou McDonald (Dublin) and Bairbre de Brún (Six Counties). "During recent days it had become increasingly clear that there were serious difficulties across the political spectrum with the proposed European Commission," they said.

"We now call upon Mr Barroso to seriously reflect on the events of recent weeks. He must consult widely with MEPs and political groups on the composition of the future European Commission, and he must return to the EU Parliament next month with a more balanced and progressive set of proposals."

Opposition

While Buttiglione's comments and politics attracted the majority of media attention, opposition from Sinn Féin also centred around four other proposed appointments, including that of Irish choice Charlie McCreevy. These five nominees make up a core of right wing ideologues in the heart of the Commission's economic, justice and environment policies.

McCreevy's clear commitment to continue his privatisation and neo-liberal economic policy in Europe make him a clear threat to what remains of the social and workers' agenda in the Union. His accomplishment in dramatically widening the gap between rich and poor in Ireland is ominous for the 58 million people living in poverty in EU member states.

Former Direct Ruler Peter Mandelson's commitment to the same economic policies as well as his lack of interest in putting development at the centre of his trade brief led to his rejection by United Left and the Greens. Question marks also hung over Dutch nominee Neelie Kroes, who is at the centre of a string of corruption cases and allegations of abuse of power in the Netherlands and Environment nominee Stavros Dimas from Greece, whose commitment to environmental protection has been called into question.

The implications of Barroso's decision to back down are still reverberating through the European institutions. With the Parliament's session ending today and not due to meet again until 15 November, it is unclear at the time of going to press when the vote will be rescheduled.

With Buttiglione coming under pressure from the Italian Government to consider withdrawing 'in the greater interest', a compromise with the Socialist Group, which includes the British and Irish Labour parties, will probably be cobbled together. Such a deal would allow the EU establishment to avoid a damaging internal battle in the run-up to the already doubtful ratification of the proposed EU Constitution.

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