Portugal is on the brink of new European status this week. Facing off against the Netherlands in Lisbon, it is just 90 minutes away from winning a place in the Euro 2004 football final next weekend. Meanwhile, in Brussels, its prime minister was set to be nominated on June 29 as President of the European Commission from next autumn.

By a curious coincidence, Portugal had already sprung to new prominence in an important European Court ruling delivered earlier the same day.

The case helped clarify one of the hottest areas of EU conflict - the respective powers of the Commission and the Council. In essence, the ruling confirms that in state aid cases, the Commission is king - no matter how much the member states dislike it.

It arose from a Commission refusal to authorise Portuguese aid for pig farmers during the 1990s. Portugal, smarting from the rebuff, won unanimous support from all the other member states for a Council decision to overturn the Commission. The Commission appealed to the Court, and the Court has today backed the Commission.

The just-agreed Constitutional Treaty may ease some of these underlying European Union tensions. But Jose Manuel Barroso will face many similar battles if he is confirmed as...

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