Brussels: The head of the European Commission unveiled his new “cabinet” on Friday, handing France’s Michel Barnier responsibility for financial services despite staunch British opposition.
Spain’s Joaquin Almunia was given control of the European Union’s (EU) feared competition policy, which carries vast anti-trust and cartel powers affecting businesses worldwide, with Finland’s Olli Rehn taking over the Spaniard’s economic and monetary affairs brief.
Delegating power: European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso. Alessandro Di Meo / AP
Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso also handed the plum post of trade commissioner to former Belgian foreign minister Karel de Gucht—a second top job for the EU’s host country, after Herman Van Rompuy was named full-time bloc president.
Outside the all-important economic areas—where Brussels wields most of its power and influence—Barroso also decided to name Denmark’s Connie Hedegaard to the new job of climate commissioner.
She will lead EU preparations in negotiations on a global treaty to fight the impact of global climate change, something Barroso said “deserves... a dedicated commissioner” as the EU locks horns with the Americans, Brazilians, Chinese and others.
While many of these nominations, which have still to be vetted by the European Parliament early in the new year, were anticipated, the financial services decision marks a setback for Britain. There had been much diplomatic wrangling over a post which will control supervision of the EU market for financial services, 80% of which is in the City of London, for the next five years.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy indulged in some late-night arm-twisting with Barroso from Brazil, where he is meeting with Amazon Basin countries on climate before the talks being convened by the United Nations in Copenhagen next month, before overcoming British resistance.
However Barnier’s department is to be headed up by an English minder, Jonathan Faull, currently in charge of the day-to-day running at justice and home affairs.
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has made it a personal priority to rein in EU proposals to regulate financial services across Europe from Brussels.
The single European market—home to half a billion people and the world’s biggest trading entity—is due for major modernization over the commission’s five-year term in office, to reflect the age of digital commerce.
And Barroso said the need to “complete” the job of creating a borderless EU market for services as well as industry was why he ruled out hiving off responsibility for banks, insurers and other markets as Britain had sought.
The European Commission handles the money—a €116 billion (around Rs8.09 trillion today) budget for 2008—for the 27-nation bloc.
It proposes and enforces laws from Portugal in the west to Poland in the east, and Finland in the north to Greece and Cyprus in the south-eastern Mediterranean.
De Gucht will take forward talks on free trade deals with India, several south-eastern Asian states and Canada, similar to a deal negotiated with South Korea by predecessor Catherine Ashton of the UK.