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Tuesday, Aug 17, 2004

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Barroso's EU agenda gets under way with new team

Batuk Gathani

With free market liberals in key posts, the EU's incoming President hopes to rush economic reform.

Brussels , Aug. 16

THE most significant and epoch-making development in the European Union this week was when Mr Barroso, the incoming President of the European Union, named his new team to rush key economic and administrative reforms to make the EU the "most competitive economy" in the world by 2010.

Mr Barroso stressed on the ambitious `Lisbon Agenda' agreed upon by the heads of the EU Governments in 2001 as he unveiled his team of new commissioners or ministers to take office in November, when the Romano Prodi Commission goes out.

Widely described as a "master tactician" and a "bold pragmatist," Mr Barroso has ensured that big EU powers do not have their way. But the reality is that most important portfolios have gone to the commissioners nominated by Germany, Britain, Holland and Ireland in a quest to strike a "healthy balance" between larger and smaller EU member states.

Mr Barroso has also put his stamp on restructuring the European Commission by nominating eight (one-third) women commissioners.

The former Prime Minister of Portugal, Mr Barroso has given important portfolios to politicians who have a reputation of promoting free market economies backed by lower taxation regimes to boost European productivity and give a competitive edge. Hence, he has put free market liberals in key economic posts. His list of new commissioners is widely rated as "balanced and fair" as he promises a "strong, independent and credible" European Commission till November 2009.

It remains to be seen how far European governments can fulfil this quest in the five years under Mr Jose Manuel Barroso, who wants a more intimate dialogue with European citizens, who have displayed a varying degree of apathy and disenchantment with the work of the European Commission in recent months.

The record low turnout in June at the European Parliamentary elections was embarrassing, to say the least. Mr Barroso said, "I want to put the European Commission in the driving seat of the EU that benefits our citizens."

The enlarged EU of 25 member-states from the pre-May numbers of 15 recently enacted many laws and set precedents to give new dimensions to highlight a "pan-European identity." As such, European institutions have become more powerful and influential, particularly in trade matters in a common market of some 450 million citizens with over $7-trillion GDP base.

As Mr Barroso put it, "People need to understand what the European Union does and why." Mr Barroso has abolished the tradition of two posts of commissioner for the big four countries in the outgoing commission. And in the new enlarged EU, each member-state has one commission post.

The key post of the EU Trade Commissioner has gone to Mr Peter Mandelson, son of the controversial British politician (twice fired from the Blair Government) and architect of the `new' Labour Party. Mr Mandelson, 50, is a savvy communicator with a reputation for political manoeuvring. He was Britain's Trade and Industry Minister in 1998, and was popular with business leaders, bankers and industrialists.

Mr Mandelson will now co-ordinate the EU's common position in global trade talks as he replaces the charismatic and widely admired, Mr Pascal Lamy, who developed cordial trade relations with China and India.

The EU is fast emerging as India's prominent trade and investment partner with over a third of India's import export trade with the EU countries. But China's trade and investment profile with the EU is six times bigger.

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