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The European Commission will remain in office indefinitely after a clash with the European Parliament plunged the 25-nation EU into an unprecedented political crisis, casting some doubt on antitrust chief Mario Monti’s proposed successor. A new 25-member team led by Portugal’s Jos� Manuel Barroso was scheduled to take office Nov. 1, but on Wednesday, he persuaded the EU’s legislative assembly to delay its vote so he can consult with member states to “have strong support for the new Commission. “It is better to take time to get it right,” added Barroso, who in an unprecedented move withdrew his whole slate of nominees amid increasing opposition to Italy’s Rocco Buttiglione, the nominee for the justice and home affairs post, who said publicly that he was opposed to homosexuality and single motherhood. While it is widely expected that Buttiglione will be forced to go, it is unclear whether Barroso will ask other nominees who raised eyebrows during nomination hearings — including Dutch businesswoman Neelie Kroes, nominated to succeed Monti — to step aside or take a different portfolio. “Obviously every Commissioner’s position is now called into question,” said Alasdair Murray, a senior analyst at the Centre for European Reform, a London-based think tank. Still, he said he would be surprised if Barroso “tweaks” high-profile jobs such as the competition post. “It would make life very difficult.” In a press conference in Strasbourg, Martin Schulz, the German floor leader for the Socialists, the Parliament’s second-largest party, said Buttiglione must go. He added that there are problems with others such as Kroes, especially given the need for her to recuse herself from a number of cases to avoid conflicts of interest. But he did not call her ability into question. Robert Fitzhenry, a spokesman for the Parliament’s largest party, the center-right European People’s Party which has supported Kroes’ candidacy, said his party was staying out of the fray for now. “We have confidence in [Barroso] and we have to listen to what he has to say,” he said. Questions surrounding the credibility of Kroes, a former Dutch transportation minister who has served on numerous corporate boards, have since been overshadowed by the furor over Buttiglione, but could be raised anew in light of the current situation. “Technically speaking she’s not a Commissioner designate at the moment,” noted Tony Robinson, a spokesman for the Socialists. Barroso, a former prime minister of Portugal, predicted that it would take a few weeks to consult with member states and put a new list before the Parliament, which can only approve the Commission as a whole and not vote on individuals. But it is unclear when a new team would assume office. Barroso himself was approved by the Parliament this summer but could also be forced out if EU governments feel strongly enough. The issue is sure to cast a shadow over what had been expected to be a fairly low-key signing of the EU constitution in Rome today. The new Commission was scheduled to begin its five-year term Nov. 1, but on Wednesday the Romano Prodi-led Commission promised to continue to serve until the matter can be resolved “to ensure institutional continuity.” Speaking to journalists in Brussels, Commission spokesman Reijo Kemppinen declined to say how long Prodi’s Commission may stay in office, but said it would be business as usual for commissioners and their cabinets. A Commission official added that the current team would handle only “urgent matters,” and suggested there was no legal precedent for the current situation. While that presumably includes sticking to strict timetables on merger reviews, some competition lawyers believe the current institutional clash may dampen morale at the Commission’s competition department as well as throughout the institution. “I don’t think it will make any difference as a matter of law,” said Peter Alexiadis, a Brussels-based partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. However, “[i]t might make certain people feel uncomfortable at the personal level in taking tough decisions in a caretaker mode.” Still, some critics fear that any controversial decisions made by the caretaker Commission that end up being challenged before the EU courts may also come under greater scrutiny. If a new Commission is not in place by early December, then the current Commission will, for example, have to conclude its in-depth probe into plans by Electricidade de Portugal and Italy’s ENI SpA to acquire G�s de Portugal SA. The deadline for that case is Dec. 12. The Parliament has never rejected an incoming Commission, but wielded its power somewhat similarly in 1999 when it forced the Jacques Santer-led Commission to resign eight months before its term ended amid charges of financial management and cronyism. U.K. delegate Graham Watson, leader of the Liberal Party in the Parliament, said that Wednesday’s developments reflected the expanding power of the EU assembly. “Today this house on the River Rhine grows in stature,” he said in Strasbourg. “Its will was tested; its will prevailed.” Copyright �2004 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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