The news last week that a major executive shake-up in the European Commission will see the European commissioner for internal markets, Charlie McCreevy, replaced by a French bureaucrat in February 2010 is still the subject of discussion amongst online gambling executives.
McCreevy frequently fought the industry's corner when it came to enforcing EU principles of the free movement of goods and services, a concept often fiercely opposed by state monopolies trying to protect lucrative businesses. The Irish executive's no-nonsense approach saw several governments back down in the face of threatened European Court of Justice actions, and his commitment to European Treaty fundamentals won him great respect.
The management changes that European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso wanted to make - there were six key appointments - took protracted negotiation and international wheeling and dealing before everyone was on board and McCreevy's successor was named.
He is Michel Barnier (57) of France, a former French foreign minister and most recently agriculture minister who has extensive political and government experience in a wide range of posts in both France and at the European Union.
Along with other key economic posts, his appointment caused diplomatic ructions between France and the UK when the French president Nicholas Sarkozy remarked in a decidedly undiplomatic manner that the British were the losers in the new appointments, creating a frosty reception in London.
Barroso insisted that he had awarded jobs to individuals, not countries, though he conceded that he had talked to several prime ministers throughout the process.
“In such a process there is always going to be a dialogue, requests and suggestions that are made,” he said at a news conference in Brussels. “I spoke with many of the commissioners-designate and prime ministers, but the decision is mine.”
The result, he said, was a “sound mix of talent, gender and political orientation,” while none of the 13 commissioners who remain in Brussels will keep the same job.
The commissioners-designate will face hearings in the European Parliament starting on January 11 2010 and then, if confirmed, will begin work in February.
The hearings could see further political arguments, as it is known that Britain is unhappy that financial services are included in Barnier's portfolio. The consolation for the Brits is the appointment of Jonathan Faull as Barnier's director-general - the most senior full-time career official.
Karel Lannoo, chief executive of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, opined that “...the five or six big countries have divided up between each other the important portfolios.” Barnier, he said, “...will probably do the opposite of what Mr. McCreevy did when he came in and called for a regulatory pause.”
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