Richard North, 14/10/2004  

It's desk clearing time… or a pre-emptive strike. Last July we noted that the EU commission was threatening the German government with a starring role in the European Court of Justice unless it sorted out the law that made car-maker Volkswagen immune from take-overs.

At the time, we ventured that this would be a great test for (then) commission-president designate Barroso, as to whether he would see this issue though and actually make good the threat.

As it happens, though, he is not to be given the chance. With over two weeks to go before he assumes office the "pro-market" Dutch single market commissioner Frits Bolkestein has got in first and made the referral, leaving the new commission only the role of seeing through the case.

The complexities of this issue were rehearsed in our earlier Blog on the subject, with Schöder being trapped between the rock of the Länder and the hard place of the commission, unable to satisfy either.

But what is particularly interesting about yesterday’s development is the way Bolkestein has committed the Barroso commission to a course of action of which ot may or may not approve.

Theoretically, the new commission is a "new broom" that can set its own policy direction but this episode, like others – such as the announcement of spending plans up to 2007 - means that, whatever its inclinations, Barroso and his merry men and women will be passengers on the gravy train for some years to come.

That is the nature of the system. In the same way that the European parliament will be called upon to pass legislation at second and third reading that was introduced to a completely different parliament, so is the commission prisoner of a system over which it has little immediate control.

This rather puts the media prattle about the intentions of the Barroso commission in perspective. The will be different talking heads at the press conferences and new names to learn but, for the next few years at least – if not longer – there will be no real change.

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