PositionJose Manuel Barroso

Members of the European Parliament have dramatically raised the stakes in the approval process for the new Commission, by refusing to offer a general endorsement of what Barroso has presented them with.

Buttiglione is unsuitable as Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, according to the civil liberties committee. And there are plenty of MEPs in the Energy Committee who think that Kovacs is just unsuitable - not just for energy, but as a Commissioner.

These sentiments, powerfully expressed though they are, have not yet been formalised by the European Parliament as a whole. But the challenge is already clear. And whichever way it plays out, someone is going to get hurt.

It is possible that Buttiglione or Kovacs may voluntarily withdraw. That would damage not just their own career plans, but also the authority of the governments who nominated them. Berlusconi has already accused MEPs of playing irresponsible political games. It would also weaken Barroso's position. It was he who accepted these nominees (admittedly without many options - but nonetheless he presented these as part of his Commission), and decided on their portfolios.

Barroso could make a pre-emptive strike in a show of decisiveness, and ask them to step down. But this would offend two...

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