Brussels update: fox and geese

By EDRi · August 25, 2004

Playing the old Viking game of fox and geese, that seems to have been the guiding principle for EU Member States and Commission President José Manuel Durão Barroso when they put together the group of people who will head the Brussels executive branch for the next five years. In some cases, the future Commissioners embody the exact opposite of what liberal-minded Europeans would consider a qualification.

Rocco Buttiglione, the new Commissioner presiding the Justice, Freedom and Security Directorate General – under the present Commissioner just called ‘Justice and Home Affairs’ – has a record of defending the impunity of his head of state, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who openly opposed the European arrest warrant for fear of some day becoming subject to such a warrant himself. While still Berlusconi’s EU Affairs Minister, Buttiglione spoke out in favour of taking digital fingerprints of all immigrants, as a first step to scanning all Italian residents. Buttiglione was a low-profile backbencher when he was Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2004. He did not take on a single report and teached Philosophy instead. He is known as a conservative Catholic who is close to the right-wing ‘Communione e liberazione’ movement and takes pride in his close links to Pope John Paul II.

There are also some doubts about the qualifications of Neelie Kroes, the successor to anti-trust Commissioner Mario Montio. As the e-zine ‘The Register’ revealed, she gave Bill Gates, the man on who’s business behaviour her Directorate general will have to rule soon, an honorary degree when she was President of Nijenrode University, back in 1996. Already then, Microsoft was being investigated by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for “unlawfully maintain(ing) its monopoly of personal computer operating systems and … unreasonably restrain(ing) trade”, but even today Kroes says she wouldn’t have awarded Gates the degree if she hadn’t thought he was “doing a good job”.

Other disputed nominations for Commissioners include Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who will take Chris Patten’s position as Commissioner for External Relations and Neighbourhood Policy, where she will have to deal with the transfer of personal information to third countries, such as the USA. Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner was Austrian Foreign Minister in the much-disputed Schüssel cabinet, which was boycotted for including for the first time the extreme-right Freedom party of Jörg Haider. She failed as the right wing’s candidate in the Austrian presidential elections earlier this year.

Trade, including the whole area of international agreements on Intellectual Property rights, will be overseen by Peter Mandelson. Mr. Mandelson, who is one of the original inventors of ‘New Labour’, is a close personal ally of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, but had to step down twice from ministerial posts in the Blair cabinet after allegations of corruption. Sending Mandelson, who carries this stigma, to Brussels, risks further damage to the reputation of the EU in Britain, where Brussels is already stigmatised as a realm of nepotism and corruption.

‘Questa sinistra è arretrata – l’unico problema è la privacy’ (Interview with Rocco Buttilione in Italian, 11.05.2002)

‘Next EC antitrust czar was Bill Gates fan’ (23.08.2004)

(Contribution by Andreas Dietl, EDRI EU Affairs Manager)