Gordon Brown nominated Baroness Ashton to be European Commissioner after Peter Mandelson returned to UK government. The reason is clear enough – Brown did not want a by-election that Labour might loose after the Crewe and Glasgow East debacles. After the first reaction (who is Baroness Ashton), thoughts turned to the porfolio she would be allocated. It has now however been confirmed that Barroso will not reshuffle the Commission (as he did when Antonio Tajani replaced Franco Frattini a few months back; Ashton will get the Trade portfolio).
So why was Barroso so amenable to meeting UK demands? Could it be, I wonder, be something to do with Barroso’s impending efforts to be selected for a second term as President of the European Commission? France would be the country that would naturally lobby for a less liberal position to be taken by the European Commission on trade policy, but Sarkozy has already stated his support for a second term for Barroso. Italy was also in a weaker position with regard to Tajani – Berlusconi had already angered Barroso with regard to Rocco Buttiglione, and Berlusconi is not going to be able to muster up a rival to Barroso from with the EPP.
Yet Brown must surely be crucial to Barroso’s chances of a second term. The UK could (and should) side with whoever the PES might like to put forward, yet Blair was a big backer of Barroso in 2004. Is Barroso inclined to play easy on the UK on this one so as to protect his future job prospects?