Those who see in the European Union a neoliberal project designed to bend European societies in the direction of furthering the interests of large corporations will find their beliefs confirmed by recent changes in the European Commission. -- George Parker writes in Thursday's Financial Times of London that a "vast reshuffle" is causing "jubilation in London, despair in Paris," and is "a decisive break with the past," Parker writes. -- The most important appointment, of Catherine Day as secretary-general, is of someone with "a passion for liberal economic reforms" and a "reputation as a scourge of French corporatism." -- "British and German liberals dominate many of the other top posts," Parker notes. -- "This vast reshuffle shows how far France has lost influence in Brussels, and how far the Anglo-Saxons and liberals have gained power," Le Figaro noted. -- The European Commission, along with the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, is one of the EU's three chief governing institutions. -- The Commission proposes and implements legislation and watches over the treaties that are EU's legal basis. -- It consists of 25 commissioners, one from each EU member, and employs thousands of European civil servants who work in various departments that together make up the Directorate-General. -- José Manuel Durão Barroso of Portugal has served as its president since November 2004. -- Unlike the Council of the European Union, the Commission is supposed to be independent of member states, and commissioners are supposed to represent the interests of the citizens of the EU as a whole, rather than the government of the country that appointed them....
RIGHT TURN AHEAD
By George Parker
Financial Times (UK)
November 10, 2005
BRUSSELS -- You know something is afoot in Brussels when the right-wing British press starts writing approvingly that the European Commission has been taken over by "Thatcherites."
According to the Daily Telegraph, the EU's executive has been "purged" by Jose Manuel Barroso, the Commission president.
"Reformers are to take charge of energy, transport, and trade, while ageing symbols of the old dirigiste era have been shunted aside," the paper observed on Thursday.
Mr. Barroso's reshuffle of senior Commission eurocrats -- the directors-general who run individual departments -- has made a decisive break with the past.
The fact that French officials have been the biggest losers in the shake-up is a cause for jubilation in London, despair in Paris.
In spite of attempts by Mr Barroso's team to persuade French journalists that the reshuffle was good for their fellow citizens, none swallowed the line.
"This vast reshuffle shows how far France has lost influence in Brussels, and how far the Anglo-Saxons and liberals have gained power," noted Le Figaro.
A French official may have taken control of the agriculture department, but President Jacques Chirac's lifelong obsession with farm subsidies is regarded as a "crazy" anachronism by senior officials in Brussels.
Instead Catherine Day, a liberal Irish official who won her spurs in Brussels in taking on French state aid policy, wins the top prize as secretary-general.
The secrecy surrounding Ms. Day's promotion to the top job -- she is the first woman to hold it -- may owe something to her reputation as a scourge of French corporatism.
Recently she acquired a green tinge during her spell as director-general of environment, but colleagues say she retains a passion for liberal economic reforms.
During the early 1990s she handled state aid cases in the cabinet of Sir Leon Brittan, the former British EU commissioner, and fought a series of battles with French officials over state aid.
"She was very much Leon's ideological backbone, fighting off essentially French interests in state aid cases," said Peter Guilford, a former colleague in the Brittan team. "It was very much the ideological battleground of the time."
Another Irishman, David O'Sullivan, becomes the top civil servant at trade, while British and German liberals dominate many of the other top posts.
Meanwhile the veteran French federalist Francois Lamoureux, the director-general of transport and energy, has been moved out while Odile Quentin, the DG of social policy who backed plans for a EU maximum 48-hour working week, is moved to the relative backwater of culture and youth.
The new line-up is a British dream, whatever Mr. Barroso's aides might say to the French press. Mr. Lamoureux and Ms. Quentin are to Blairite eyes among the most dangerous people in Brussels.
From Mr. Barroso's point of view, French veterans from Jacques Delors era (1985-95) as Commission president have been among the least receptive to his plan to slim down the Commission's legislative work program.
A look at Mr. Lamoureux's foreword to a transport and energy department report gives you an idea where he is coming from: in the document he recounts with pride how the number of pages of EU law covering the two areas have increased from 3782 in 1999 to 9682 in 2004.
"In only five years the quantity of pages of legislative acts in the fields of energy and transport have doubled," he says. He notes with pleasure how his department has been "one of the most productive directorates-general as regards legislative proposals."
While acknowledging Mr. Lamoureux's point that EU regulation often replaces 25 separate sets of national rules, it is not the kind of rhetoric that sits well with Mr. Barroso's "better regulation" drive.
Mr. Barroso has taken a big leap this week in reshaping his administration in his image. The key people overseeing the day-to-day work and responsible for pushing through his agenda are now very much his people.
While both he and the other 24 European Commissioners serve only five-year terms, the people being promoted by Mr. Barroso inside the Brussels machine will be there for many years to come.
The fact that the Daily Telegraph can find positive things to say about the European Commission is a sign of how far-reaching the Barroso revolution has become.
Whether that bodes well for the Commission president in his dealings with Paris and some other other less liberal-inclined member states is a different matter entirely.