Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Is This the End of Rocco?

Yes, it is. But before incoming European Commission President Jose Barroso decided to withdraw his slate of candidates for the new commission today, I had this article in the Wall Street Journal Europe on the Rocco Buttiglione flap. I'm just happy to have been able to make a gratuitous reference to the Spanish Inquisition, which of course no one expects.

Sin of Commission

October 27, 2004

BRUSSELS -- Good old-fashioned political battles are rare in Brussels,
where marathon disagreements over cod-fishing quotas or
qualified-majority-voting logarithms are what normally pass for high

So it has been refreshing over the last couple of weeks to see
politicians, bureaucrats and opinion-leaders in the EU capital
engaging in the kind of down-and-dirty melee we've come to expect in
Washington or London.

What started out as a hubbub -- indignant reaction from
parliamentarians to some ill-considered comments made by Italy's
nominee for the European Commission during his confirmation hearing --
has grown into a full-fledged hullabaloo. At stake is not simply the
question of whether 25 new commissioners will be allowed to take their
posts next week nor even the fragile political standing of the
institution's next president, but also the future of the European
project and possibly even democracy itself.

OK, that may be overstating things a bit. But the Pope has already
gotten involved and Mel Gibson can't be far behind. This is serious.

* * *
Incoming Commission President José Manuel Barroso has impressed many
with his media savvy and his near-Clintonian ability to say exactly
what any particular audience wants to hear. But the concrete of his
European political foundation is only just beginning to dry, so
naturally members of the EU Parliament -- especially ones from the
center-left and left-leaning political groups who didn't want him to
get the top job in the first place -- want to scratch their names into
it. Rocco Buttiglione, a former minister in the Italian government and
the man Mr. Barroso had chosen to head up the commission's justice and
civil rights department, gave them the perfect opportunity.

During his Parliamentary confirmation hearing, Mr. Buttiglione
declared that women exist "to have children and be protected by their
husbands" and said he believes homosexuality to be a "sin." He also
said he wouldn't let his personal moral beliefs influence his
policy-making. But the remarks caused an uproar and led to his being
the first commission nominee in the history of the EU to be rejected
by a committee of the European Parliament.

Some, including the Vatican, have rushed to defend Mr. Buttiglione,
accusing his tormentors of a "secular Inquisition," although a more
appropriate analogy might be the Monty Python Inquisition, in which
the torturers used such implements as "the comfy chair" and "the soft
pillow" to great effect.

The Italian last week issued the requisite apology -- or at least a
textbook non-apology that amounted to expressing "deep regret" for all
the fuss. And Mr. Barroso bent over backwards to appease his critics,
promising to set up a subcommittee of other commissioners to make sure
Mr. Buttiglione's personal views do not encroach on EU legislation.

This offer was rejected as too little, too late by socialists in the
Parliament. Never mind that it was both unnecessary and absurd. The
commission acts as a whole, and nearly everything it does is subject
to the approval of member states or the Parliament, so the notion that
Mr. Buttiglione would launch a one-man jihad against working gay
mothers is far-fetched.

But the issue no longer seems to be Mr. Buttiglione or the handful of
other commission nominees who have offended one party group or another
for some pet political reason. Now, it's an interinstitutional battle,
a game of chicken between the historically strong commission and the
once-weak but gradually empowered Parliament.

The Parliament must approve the 25 commission nominees en bloc; it
cannot reject one or a few. If it vetoes the whole incoming class, the
EU would suddenly find itself without a new commission -- and would
have to ask the outgoing one to stick around for awhile. Departing
Commission President Romano Prodi, displaying once again his talent
for saying exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time, has already
nobly declared his willingness to serve if called. That may yet prove
precisely the sort of threat Mr. Barroso needs to ensure that his
commission slate is approved at today's session of the 732-member
assembly. The former Portuguese prime minister yesterday told
parliament that he wouldn't change his line-up.

So Mr. Barroso is gambling that MEPs won't sacrifice the whole slate
of candidates just to make a point. Either that or he's hoping that,
at the last minute, Mr. Buttiglione will cash in his chips and head
back to Rome.

But what would really happen if there were no Commission? We don't
have to look that far back in EU history to find the answer: Not much.

In March 1999 the commission headed by Luxembourg's Jacques Santer
resigned en masse after allegations of fraud had tarnished a few of
its members. Europe was left without a commission until the new one
was appointed six months later. The EU functioned, the 19,000
bureaucrats who work for the commission continued in their jobs, and
the earth turned on its normal axis. (Actually, in that case, the
disgraced commissioners continued to serve during the interregnum in
what was called a "caretaker role" -- prompting the question, what is
the difference?)

* * *
As for this year's standoff, we won't know for sure whether a
full-blown crisis can be averted until Day One of the new commission's
mandate, when its members either take office or don't. Actually, we
may have to wait until Day Three. Monday and Tuesday are holidays for
the EU.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

How to Build a Laser Gun


UPDATE (from July 2007) on how to build a laser gun can be found here...

IMPORTANT UPDATE (from AUGUST 2006): For the latest on how to build a laser gun, click here and here!

unedited post from October 2004 follows:

Dear Friends and Future Readers,
Thanks for all the input on the website. As you can see, I've changed the colors a bit in an effort to make it more readable. I promise to work on making the posts themselves more readable. And, in the course of my research, I discovered a nifty project for a rainy Brussels autumn. Good luck!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Three-Pillar Circus

Wondering about that huge circus tent in the middle of Brussels' Rond Point Schuman? Of course you are! Now posted on TCS: my analysis/review of a phantasmagorical EU project aimed at defining the Image of Europe. I'm working without a net here, folks...

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Let's Talk Turkey

I take a typically over-simplistic look at a problem of great political, social and theological significance in this week's TCS column. Enjoy!

Check Out My Links!

Just a brief post to encourage visitor(s) to be sure to check out my links -- not just the ones on the right side of the page, but also the post headings, etc., which are hyperlinked. You never know what you might find...