Friday, September 16, 2005

Kroes, Merkel and Commission impartiality

German elections: Controversial Dutch EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes (who caused a bit of fuss a year ago during the confirmation hearings for Barroso's Commission thanks to her links to umpteen business interests and unproven allegations of shady dealings) has arguably broken Commission guidelines by publicly declaring her support for Angela Merkel in Sunday's elections.

It is, however, a bit of a grey area, what with it not being the politics of her own nation in which she has become embroiled. Especially as the new codes of conduct for Commissioners state that it is even permissible to "be active members of political parties or trade unions, provided that this does not compromise their availability for service in the Commission".

Nonetheless, it is also a - perhaps contradictory - general rule that EU Commissioners should remain "completely independent" (hence the fuss over Kroes' business links in a role which involves a vast amount of interaction with business). And in any case, her assertion that "The election of this excellent politician would be wonderful for the whole of Europe" is far from certainly the case, and demonstrates - in the eyes of some - a lack of judgement which is somewhat concerning for somebody holding such an important post. But then again, Peter Mandelson is also a Commissioner...

Kroes claims that her support for Merkel is because, basically, it would be good for women's lib and stuff for a woman to hold high office in Germany. Unsurprisingly, however, this hasn't gone down too well, Schröder ally and leader of the European Parliament's Socialist group Martin Schulz (unsurprisingly not a fan of the conservative Merkel) stating that "This is an unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of a member state, regardless of Ms Kroes’s motivation. As we know, Ms Kroes stands for ultra market-liberalism, so it is not surprising that she supports Ms Merkel who shares the same values."

Even so, this could spark a few interesting questions about the extent to which Commissioners should be allowed to express personal views. Remember the US presidential elections? Practically no world leader expressed any opinion as to who they would prefer in charge - Japan's Junichiro Koizumi even going as far as to publicly deny that he backed Bush after rumours circulated that he had given George his backing.

I doubt there are many who would argue against introducing a hard and fast rule about EU Commissioners stating categorically that they should shut the hell up when it comes to their personal preferences for national governments within the EU. After all, how could Kroes work impartially and without any ill-feeling with a Schröder government, should the near-incredible happen and he manage to hang on to power?

They really do themselves no favours, this lot...

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