New EU Commission team to get green light, finally

BRUSSELS: EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso's new team is set to get the green light from the European parliament Tuesday, ending a three-month limbo period during the bloc's worst ever economic crisis.

The mandate of Barroso's first team of policy commissioners officially ran out at the end of October but problems in ratifying the EU's reforming Lisbon Treaty, followed by the parliament's rejection of Bulgaria's choice for EU humanitarian aid commissioner, kept the outgoing team on in a caretaker capacity.

The EU parliament, very impressed by Bulgaria's replacement candidate, World Bank vice president Kristalina Georgieva, is ready to approve the 26-member policy team in its entirety, allowing 'Barroso II' to begin working next week.

To reach this stage each would-be commissioner, picked by the European capitals, had to undergo a rigorous job interview by euro MPs.

Bulgaria's original candidate Rumiana Jeleva, who fell on her sword amid doubts over her financial affairs and rumours that he husband had mafia links, was not the only one to be given a tough time.

Several MEPs remain unimpressed with EU High Representative for foreign affairs, British peer Catherine Ashton -- who also becomes commission vice-president.

Baroness Ashton was criticised for not travelling to Haiti after the devastating earthquake there. Her low profile and lack of diplomatic experience has left some wondering whether she has the ability to boost Europe's standing in world affairs.

Nevertheless with his new team up and running, Barroso will be able to retake his position at the forefront of the EU project, although with more figures than ever sharing the platform with him.

Besides Barroso and Ashton there is EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, a former Belgian prime minister whose post, like Ashton's, was created by the Lisbon Treaty.

Added to the mix is the rotating EU presidency, held by Spain for the first half of the year, and EU parliament president Jerzy Buzek of Poland, who represents Europe's only elected body.

Van Rompuy, who has remained largely in the shadows since assuming his post in December, will seek to emerge on Thursday as he hosts an EU summit dedicated to the economic crisis.

Relaunching the economy is also the main concern of Barroso and his core economic team: the EU's Spanish competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia, its Finnish economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn and former French foreign minister Michel Barnier who becomes EU Internal Market Commissioner.

Other members of Barroso's new team including Belgian Karel De Gucht, who picks up the trade portfolio, and Romanian Dacian Ciolos at agriculture.

"Over the next five years, I hope that this commission will play a key role in bringing Europe out of the crisis with a competitive economy which provides our citizens with sustainable growth and prosperity," Barroso said.

Considered by his detractors to have been too liberal and too timid in the face of the big European nations during his first five-year term, former Portuguese prime minister Barroso wants to prove his critics wrong the second time around, during a term which will be marked next year with a major battle over Europe's future budget.