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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Barroso II

Brussels is awash with rumour about who will get what in the newly appointed European Commission, due to be unveiled by President Barroso next week.

Having ruled itself out of any of the important economic portfolios with the appointment of Cathy Ashton as EU Foreign Minister and Vice President of the Commission with responsibility for External Relations, the UK is now out of the equation. According to the Times yesterday, however, British diplomats have been lobbying behind the scenes to make sure that France's Michel Barnier doesn't bag the influential Internal Market job, including responsibility for financial services.

A report in the Telegraph suggests they might actually be getting somewhere. It is now thought that Jose Barroso, will, after all, revert to the original plan and remove financial services from the internal market portfolio, creating a brand new Financial Services post.

Problem is, Paris is thought now to be campaigning for the competition job instead - which is only marginally less alarming than the idea of the French protectionist taking over internal market and financial services.

And there is more alarming news. Over on his brilliant Coulisses de Bruxelles blog, French journalist Jean Quatremer shares with us a list he has obtained of who is likely to get what. He says financial services will go to Hungary's Laszlo Andor, a former economic adviser to the Socialist party and to the socialist-liberal government.

Quatremer says the appointment of the Hungarian to this post would be “a real slap in the face for France”, but notes that a small consolation for France will be the appointment of Romania’s Dacian Ciolos to the agriculture portfolio.

As well as the prospect of France at Competition, Romania in Agriculture (!!) and Hungarian socialists in charge of financial affairs, among the other counter-intuitive and faintly worrying suggestions is that the hugely important justice and home affairs portfolio, whose powers are set to skyrocket under the Lisbon Treaty, could go to a Bulgarian (Bulgaria is currently working on getting its own justice system in order...)

Meanwhile, having been in charge of DG Communications for the past 5 years, Sweden has ended up with yet another kum-by-ah post in Human Rights.

This is starting to remind us of that joke about the hypothetical European heaven and hell already alluded to by Wolfgang Munchau:

The police are British
The cooks are French
The engineers are German
The administrators are Swiss
The lovers are Italian

The police are German
The cooks are British
The engineers are Italian
The administrators are French
The lovers are Swiss

There's definitely scope for a couple of new versions of this joke involving Team Barroso II.

Intruiguingly, there is someone missing from Quatremer's list. What will Malta get? The non-job of Commissioner for Multilingualism? Maybe sport? Or perhaps it will take charge of the €2.4 billion propaganda Communication and citizenship budget?

With only one job left to fill, going on Quatremer's list of all the other 26 posts (including Barroso as President and Ashton as Vice President), several of the current portfolios must be heading for the axe, or will be amalgamated into one.

Currently, as noted above, Communication is a portfolio in its own right, under Sweden's Margot Wallstrom, while Culture and Citizenship is seperate but, as we've argued before, all very much interlinked with the campaign for hearts and minds piloted by Wallstrom. According to Quatremer, culture will be merged with 'digital economy' under Luxembourg's Viviane Reding.

For the past year, we have argued that the Communication post should be scrapped outright, since it has proven unable to provide badly-needed neutral information about the EU and its policies, reverting instead to promoting the EU and European integration at every opportunity.

Margot Wallstrom did her best, but it's starting to look as though our wish may be granted and the days of the world's most ineffective PR department may finally be numbered. Fingers crossed.

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