The second European Commission headed by José Manuel Barroso took up its duties yesterday (10 February) following a three-month caretaker period. MEPs approved the new line-up in Strasbourg on Tuesday with 488 votes in favour, 137 against and 72 abstentions. The governments of the Union’s 27 member states then approved the new Commission in a written procedure that was completed late on Tuesday night. The new Commission will hold a formal meeting on Wednesday (17 February), the first weekly College meeting since October with the power to consider draft legislation.
Barroso held an informal meeting with his new team of commissioners on Tuesday to discuss a ten-year strategy for growth and jobs that is being prepared by the Commission services, dubbed ‘Europe 2020’, and to prepare for today’s summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
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The result of Tuesday’s vote was no surprise, although it was far better than the 382 out of 718 votes Barroso himself secured when he was confirmed for a second term in office in September. The three main parties in the European Parliament made their backing conditional on a new co-operation pact between the Parliament and the Commission that enhances the role of the Parliament in EU decision-making and gives it the right to be properly consulted on most EU matters.
“We see very strong support across the political spectrum,” Barroso told MEPs after the vote, describing it as “a real mandate for boldness”. Barroso promised MEPs that he would lead “a radical shift from the status quo” to address the problems Europeans now face. Party leaders called on Barroso to rally EU governments to adopt new reforms to fix urgent economic woes. Barroso supported calls by MEPs for EU governments to agree much closer co-ordination of economic and social rules to prevent the spread of financial meltdowns in the eurozone, such as the one now under way in Greece.
Barroso and his 26 commissioners will travel together to Luxembourg in the coming weeks to be sworn into office at the European Court of Justice, although the commissioners can exercise their full powers without waiting for the swearing-in ceremony. The Commission’s term in office ends in 2014.
The mandate of the first Barroso Commission ended on 1 November, when the Commission went into care-taker mode. It has taken competition decisions and launched infringement proceedings but has not been able to adopt new initiatives.
In its first legislative act, the Commission granted the EU’s statistical office, Eurostat, the power to audit national figures.
In the coming weeks, the Commission plans to present the new growth and jobs strategy (3 March), to adopt its opinion on Iceland’s application to join the EU (24 February).
This is the first Commission to work under the rules of the Lisbon treaty, which came into force on 1 December. Under the treaty, the EU’s foreign policy chief – Catherine Ashton, a former commissioner for trade – also serves as the Commission’s vice-president for external relations. Commission portfolios have been re-shaped in light of some new priorities. There is now a climate action portfolio, overseen by Denmark’s Connie Hedegaard, while humanitarian aid has been split from development. Consumer affairs has been reunited with the health portfolio, reversing a change made in 2007.
Newcomers to the Commission have been appointed to some of the weightiest portfolios. Dacian Ciolos, Romania’s relatively unknown commissioner, is in charge of agriculture and rural development, while Maria Damanaki of Greece oversees fisheries and maritime policy. France’s Michel Barnier – commissioner for regional policy in 1999-2004 – takes the internal market and services portfolio while Günther Oettinger of Germany deals with energy. Algirdas Šemeta, a Lithuanian, leads on taxation and customs union, audit and anti-fraud. Poland’s Janusz Lewandowski deals with budget and financial programming. John Dalli of Malta is responsible for the health and consumer policy portfolio, and Cecilia Malmström of Sweden oversees home affairs. Štefan Füle, the Czech commissioner, is in charge of enlargement and the neighbourhood policy.
Several long-time or otherwise prominent commissioners have left the Commission. They include Günter Verheugen, commisssioner for enterprise and industry and, in 1999-2004, for enlargement; Charlie McCreevy, commissioner for internal market and services; and Mariann Fischer Boel, commissioner for agriculture and development.