Richard North, 04/11/2004  

How long can one go on writing about democratic elections even with the various attempts to sidetrack discussion to the cul-de-sac of whether a federal structure is a good thing or a bad per se? It is time to get back to the topsy-turvy world of the European Union, where the news is that as the European Council meets under the dual shadow of another Bush presidency (their expression not mine) and the probable imminent death of their very own pet terror master Yasser Arafat, the Commission is once again ready for its line-up.

The whole thing reminds one of nothing so much as the excruciatingly funny sequence in the Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Races, where the highly strung and ever more nervous horses keep lining up at the starting line only to have something else go wrong as Groucho, Chico and Harpo desperately try to delay the race in order to find their horse.

The latest addition to the stable is a new Italian eventer, Franco Frattini. He is the Foreign Minister and a member of Forza Italia, one of the parties of the coalition government. Nothing much is known about him for the moment, but that can change in the next week or so.

Berlusconi will now have to find another foreign minister. Perhaps, Rocco Buttiglione will apply. After all, he has become something of a hero in Italy because of his treatment by the European Parliament and the new Commission President.

Frattini is being offered the law and justice portfolio, which is actually a lot more important with Tampere II (already reported on this blog) being agreed on at this luckless European Council.

The other Commissioners are staying in their proposed positions, the Dutch and the Danes respectively supporting Neelie Kroes and Mariann Fischer Boel, despite allegations of financial irregularities and possible clash of interests.

The new Latvian Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs will be given the energy portfolio and the Hungarian Commissioner, László Kovács, criticized by the MEPs for his Communist past and total lack of knowledge of anything to do with energy, will take on taxation. Whether he knows aught on that subject will be seen during the next round of questionings by European Parliament committees.

Both Commission President Barroso and European Parliament President Borrel have made statements on their certainty that this time round things will work out and the Commission will be able to get down to work quickly. (Speed is not necessarily the most important prerequisite in politics but let that pass.)

Meanwhile the European Council will discuss Tampere II, Wim Kok’s report on the lack of progress in the Lisbon Agenda (of which more anon), the situation in the Middle East, Iraq and Iran, none of which the European states can do much about, as their contribution to the achievement of peaceful stable societies there remains minimal.

Oh yes, having welcomed the verdict of the American people, they have sternly warned the newly re-elected President that he will have to make some changes in his government. No doubt in the same way as the European Union makes changes.

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