The Great Debate UK
Jose Manuel Barroso promised the European Parliament that as re-elected president of the European Commission he will have more authority to fight for Europe and defend its single market against economic nationalism.
But after five years of toadying to the big member states, he will need to show more spine to enforce state aid and competition rules on Germany, Britain and France in the teeth of strong national financial or commercial interests.
The conservative former Portuguese prime minister, backed by all 27 EU governments, won an impressive absolute majority of EU lawmakers -- more than the simple majority he required. That
gives him a stronger hand when facing inevitable pressure from the big boys over the carve-up of key Commission portfolios.
Recent Commission moves to query state aid to banks (such as Dutch guarantees for ING) and scrutinise public funding of auto industry rescues (Germany's bung for Opel) are encouraging. But it remains to be seen whether Barroso, now he is no longer reliant on them for re-appointment, has the character to stand up to Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy or Gordon Brown on politically sensitive cases. In his first term, he often appeared to be a trimmer, a multilingual chameleon.
At the very least, it’s frightfully convenient for the British government to call in the Serious Fraud Office to look into MG Rover, a former carmaker. Whether there’s a shocking crime or not, it suits Peter Mandelson, the Business Secretary, to organise a further delay before this gory case is finally closed.