Monday, August 16, 2004


Ok, I guess you were not exactly waiting for it but here it is: the distribution of portfolios in the new European Commission, the EU’s "gumint". There are 25 of them, Chairman Barroso included. The smarter ones among you (could it be I’m not holding my breath) will already have noticed 25 is also the number of EU states in the new, enlarged constellation. Indeed, until 2014 every member state has the right to delegate one commissioner, regardless of its relative power. So Slovenia, population 2 million, gets one commissioner, and Germany, population 80 million, too. Seeing that the US gumint does not count 51 ministers must have ringed a bell though, since after 2014 the number of commissioners will be reduced to 18, regardless of whatever or how many states will join still.

Whether you like it or not, Jose Manuel Durao Barroso has given a fairly good impression as a man of deeds, not words till now. Dismissed by many observers as your typical colorless compromise figure at the time of his appointment, he has so far proven he’s nobody’s stooge. He wanted one third of commissioners to be females, he got them. The local powerhouses, rightfully fearing their voice would be diluted, wanted "constructions" still granting them power – Barroso did not budge. E.g., in the previous Commission the big countries had two commissioners. Germany, backed by the UK and France, asked for the new Commission a "Supercommissioner" to take charge of all aspects of economic performance, read it asked for a commissioner to whom several other commissioners wouild be subordinated. Barroso quickly made it clear he and no one else would decide on his team’s composition. Anyway, here it is:

Chairman of the European Commission: José Manuel Durao Barroso, former PM (Portugal), centre-right

Transport Commissioner/Vice Chairman: Jacques Barrot, former Minister of Work (France), rightwing

Justice, Freedom and Security Commissioner/Vice Chairman: Rocco Buttiglione, former Minister of European Affairs (Italy), centre-left

Administrative Affairs, Audits and Anti-fraud/Vice Chairman: Siim Kallas, former PM (Estonia), centre-right

Corporate Sector and Industry/Vice Chairman: Guenter Verheugen, former EU Commissioner of Enlargement (Germany), leftwing

Institutional Relations and Communications strategy/Vice Chairman: Margot Wallstrom, former Commissioner of Environment (Sweden), leftwing

Economy and Monetary Affairs: Joaquin Almunia , former Minister of Employment and Social Affairs (Spain), leftwing

Fishery and Maritime Affairs: Joe Borg, former FM (Malta), rightwing

Environment: Stavros Dimas, former Commissioner for Social Affairs and Employment (Greece), rightwing

External Relations: Benita Ferrero-Waldner, former FM (Austria), centre-left

Education, Formation, Culture and Multilinguality: Jan Figel, former State Secretary OF Foreign Affairs (Slovakia), centre-left

Agriculture and Rural Development: Mariann Fischer-Boel, former Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fishery (Denmark), centre-right

Budget and Financial Progrmmation: Dalia Grybauskaite, former Finance Minister (Lithuania), no party

Regional Affairs: Danuta Huebner, former Minister of European Affairs (Poland), leftwing

Energy: Laszlo Kovacs, former Foreign Minister (Hungary), centre-left

Competition: Neelie Kroes, former Minister of Traffic and Waterworks (Netherlands), centre-right

Health and Consumer Protection: Markos Kyprianou , former Minister of Finance (Cyprus), centre-right

Trade: Peter Mandelson, former Minister of Trade and Northern Ireland (Great Britain), leftwing

Internal Market: Charles McCreevy: former Minister of Tourism, Trade and Social Affairs (Ireland), rightwing

Science and Research: Janez Potocnik, former Minister of European Affairs (Slovenia), centre-right

Information Society and Media: Viviane Reding, former Europarlementarian (Luxembourg), centre-right

Enlargement: Olli Rehn, former Advisor to Finnish PM (Finland), centre-right

Work, social affairs, Equal Chances: Vladimir Spidla, former PM (Czech Republic), leftwing

Taxes and customs: Ingrida Udre, Chairman of Parliament (Latvia), centre-right

And, last but not least (snicker):

Surveillance of Salmon populations in Lofotian fjords: Louis Michel, Eternal Dimwit Par Excellence (Belgium), Maoist in disguise

As you can see I did a little research on the place of our beloved EU-bosses and bossettes and the result comes as a moderate surprise to me. Always struggling with the slightly different notions of a right-and leftwinger on either side of the Atlantic (e.g., over here a "liberal" is considered a moderate rightwinger, whereas you would call our "socialists" half-communists), I have decided to distinguish four categories, namely "Rightwing" (conservative), "Centre-Right" (liberal), "Centre-Left" (Christian Democrats, Social-Democrats) and "Leftwing" (socialists). Not taking into account Lithuania's Mrs. Dalia Grybauskaite, who reportedly has no political affiliation, I've come to the following results:

Rightwing: 5 Commissioners
Centre-Right: 7 Commissioners
Centre-Left: 5 Commissioners
Leftwing: 7 Commissioners

In other words, Left and Right are neatly divided 50/50 in this new EU-Commission. I never did such an inquiry for the previous Commission, but I bet the Left was stronger represented. Anyway, this rightwing transition, coupled with the fact that Mr. Barroso is moderately pro-American (his predecessor Romano Prodi was not), should give you Americanos some hope for the future. And of course, the political process will be influenced too by a European Parliament in which France's and Germany's voices have significantly lost weight and have been effectively replaced to a certain extent by the rather pro-American voices from the new countries in the East.

Just have some patiece yet, as the new EU-Commission will only assume EU leadership in autumn, if I'm not mistaken at about the same time a new US President gets elected. So if Bush wins, as I hope and still expect, then a case can be made that slowly but irresistibly the Western World is turning more conservative (sorry, Kevin). This process should not come as a surprise given the the dawning realization among a majority of western voters that our common problems, a.o. immigration, need firmer solutions.

I would also not exclude that many people for whom "liberal" issues were never a problem, are growing increasingly uncomfortable with the ever-more prominent alternative lifestyles which our media more and more display as the norm. I'll give you just one example: this weekend my wife watched on dvd "Under the Tuscan Sun", with Diane Lane (she's getting older btw, although she's still quite a broad). Diane finds out her husband has an adulterous homosexual affair, she divorces, her lesbian friends, of whom one, who is Asian, is pregnant (father unknown), organize a trip to Italy with her with a gay group, she buys a house and has an affair with a smooth-talking Italian who bangs another woman twenty miles further down the road, blah blah blah... are you still following???

Anyway, I get the disitnct feeling that a growing number of the "conventionals" are not taking it for granted anymore that we should swallow the ads for alternativo lifestyles, and want some "traditional" values re-emphasized. This is not just a gut feeling, the Belgian story of the rising relevance of the rightwing "Vlaams Blok", once a political pariah, may very well be a study in microcosm of a rightwing trend in the Western World.

Ok, forget that sermon, I was talking about Barroso and crew. Let me finish by saying that Barroso, on the press conference on which he presented his equipe, also made clear what his two main aims were: making the EU by 2010 the most competitive economy in the world, and maing it better known among European citizens. If he succeeds, then by that time we may feel ourselves a little more like Europeans and a little less like Slovaks, Italians, French or whatever. I might hope so.


No comments: