The European Union's new Executive Commission, headed by reformist Romano Prodi, has won approval from the European Parliament at a vote in Strasbourg. Correspondent Breffni O'Rourke looks at the vote and the task now confronting Prodi and his team.
Prague, 15 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The European Parliament in Strasbourg has approved by a wide margin the European Union's new pro-reform Executive Commission, headed by former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi.
By a ratio of some three to one, the deputies in the 626-seat parliament voted in favor of granting the new commission a full five-year term, as sought by Prodi.
The confirmation vote brings to a close a leadership crisis in the European Union which began in March, when the old commission under President Jacques Santer was forced to resign under parliamentary pressure following allegations of mismanagement and fraud.
On the eve of today's crucial vote President Prodi promised the parliament he will create a "modern, efficient administration" from the present creaking and wheezing commission bureaucracy.
Prodi needs to succeed in his pledge if the EU is to cope in the coming years with its massive tasks. Above all, there is the job of eastward expansion, which will eventually almost double the EU's membership to at least 27 countries. There's also the heavy extra burdens posed by the need to stabilize and rebuild Kosovo, and to further help Bosnia and the rest of the volatile Balkans area.
A spokesman in Prodi's transitional media team, Peter Guilford, told RFE/RL today that the reform effort will begin at the commission's Brussels headquarters without delay:
"He will set to work immediately. He has appointed one of his vice presidents, Neil Kinnock, who is specially charged with the task of reforming, and he will make it results-based."
Prodi has already had several months of close contact with his team of 19 commissioners, time to mold and shape them the way he wants. That being so, his main problem will lie with the officials of the directorates-general, as the departments under the commissioners are called. The Brussels bureaucracy is notoriously resistant to change and has earned a reputation for inefficiency. Guilford says: "There will be some change of personnel, yes, but the problems go deeper, and more radical measures are required. They have for example to create a proper management culture, a proper personnel policy, and proper and adequate financial control over the budget that the commission is partly responsible for spending."
Among the commissioners approved today is Germany's Guenter Verheugen, who will take over a newly created post of commissioner for enlargement. Verheugen, while expressing his for expansion, has repeatedly said he does not plan to dilute the EU's strict entry criteria. That's despite increasing grumbling from some of the 10 candidate member countries in Central and East Europe over the slow forward momentum of their applications.
Yesterday, however, Prodi however offered the candidates an olive branch by saying serious consideration should be given at the EU's Helsinki summit in December to setting a firm accession date for what he termed the "best-prepared" group of candidates. That would likely encompass five countries -- Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic. The Helsinki summit, of course, could decide to bring other countries -- such as Slovakia and Latvia -- into the front-running group.
Prodi also put forward a novel suggestion aimed at countries with more distant membership prospects, like Bulgaria, Romania, and possibly Turkey. He said they could be allowed to develop in advance of actual membership, a type of "virtual membership" in particular areas.
What he means is that those countries would be granted, in certain limited ways, terms similar to those they would enjoy as full members. He mentioned as possible areas for consideration, aspects of economic integration and security arrangements.