Prodi to Have Wide, New Powers as Head of the European Commission
BRUSSELS: With support from European governments and extensive new responsibilities, Romano Prodi seemed assured on Thursday of becoming virtually the prime minister of the European Union.
European leaders made it clear at a special summit meeting here on Wednesday that they expected Mr. Prodi, the president-designate of the European Commission, to be a strong and independent leader,
As a former Italian prime minister, Mr. Prodi has the advantage of having shared the top table with all of the current EU heads of state and government. European governments respect him as a capable leader who turned around the Italian economy and made the country eligible to join the European single currency.
As someone who also transformed the Italian tax system and began the Herculean task of reforming its civil service, Mr. Prodi is seen as the person to introduce radical changes at the commission.
He faces a daunting array of tasks, starting with cleaning up the inefficiencies of the commission itself, and rooting out dubious practices that led the present commission to resign collectively last month.
He will also be a key player in the eventual political and economic reconstruction of the Balkans region. And he will have the job of leading the European Union from a single currency to a single economy, with inevitably a greater degree of shared political decision-making.
Mr. Prodi has defined the three watchwords of his future administration as efficiency, openness and accountability, which happen to be also what the member governments and the European Parliament are demanding. If he succeeds in meeting these demands, the commission could emerge with enhanced powers and reputation.
But while he will be expected to increase the ability and efficiency of the commission as the motor of European integration, he will have to do so in a way that does not impinge on the jealously guarded sovereign rights of the individual member states. After an amiable dinner with the other leaders Wednesday, he said that he would confine the work of the commission to "only a few important things," respecting the so-called principle of subsidiarity, in which decisions are made at the lowest possible level.
Mr. Prodi said he would begin putting together his team immediately after his confirmation by the European Parliament early next month. He will then present the entire commission for confirmation by the new Parliament, to be elected in June, at its first sitting late in July, meaning that the new executive will not be in place until August or even September.
Mr. Prodi said he and government leaders had begun drawing up profiles of the kind of people they want on the new commission, without as yet naming specific names.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany said that the commission would no longer be considered a parking lot for political has-beens. He said that future commissioners would be selected on the basis of their economic and political skills, as was Mr. Prodi.
New commissioners will also have to be acceptable to the new president, who, under the Amsterdam treaty about to come into effect, has powers of co-decision with governments in choosing the new commission and may reject or fire commissioners.
As the recognized leader of the commission, rather than a first among equals like his predecessor, Jacques Santer, Mr. Prodi can also reject anyone he does not like, and will be able to dismiss commissioners who do not live up to expectations.
In choosing the former prime minister of Luxembourg, Mr. Santer, to head the commission five years ago, governments signaled a turning-away from the period of ambitious market and economic reforms introduced by his predecessor, Jacques Delors, whose policy had been to introduce programs first and worry later about financing them and carrying them out.
Mr. Santer's administration has been more low-key and technocratic, and in the opinion of many analysts did a first-rate job in introducing the single currency. But governments now seem to be looking to Mr. Prodi to give the commission a higher political profile.
Mr. Santer advised his success-designate to beware of taking on fresh responsibilities without first making sure that governments are prepared to foot the bill. One problem of the Santer commission has been that it has constantly been given new tasks to perform without the corresponding resources in manpower or cash. To carry out its tasks, it has often had to turn to outside agencies, and it is in this area in particular that allegations of corruption and nepotism have arisen.
In the meantime, despite opposition in the Parliament, the present commission remains in place in a caretaker capacity. Mr. Santer will have to step down in July if, as expected, he wins a seat to the Parliament, since the commission recently adopted a code of conduct banning double mandates.