The European Parliament elected the new European Commission by 488 votes to 137, with 72 abstentions in Strasbourg on Tuesday. The vote took the form of a single ballot on the whole College of Commissioners, consisting of one Commissioner from each of the 27 EU member states.
The new Commission will stay in office until 31 October 2014. By way of comparison, the first Barroso Commission was voted into office in November 2004 by 449 votes to 149, with 82 abstentions.
Ahead of the election, the EPP, S&D and ALDE groups announced that they would vote in favour of the college of Commissioners. The Greens, GUE/NGL and EFD groups said they would vote against the new college and the ECR group announced it would abstain.
"The dawn of a new decade": debate on new Commission elected by MEPs
During the debate held debate on Tuesday morning, Parliament's President, Jerzy Buzek said, "This is the first time in our history that we are appointing the European Commission in our capacity as a real co-legislator. This is the dawn of a new decade, with a new way of working for the European institutions".
Accountability to Parliament is "crucially important for the Commission's democratic legitimacy", stressed Commission President José Manuel Barroso. The present exceptional times, with the economic crisis, climate change and energy security issues, meant that now was "a time for boldness". We need "strong European institutions" to tackle these challenges, he argued, and it was up to the Commission and Parliament acting together "to ensure that the EU is more than the sum of its parts".
The French leader of the centre right European People's Party (EPP) group Joseph Daul stressed that the EU must project "what the EU is - a world leader on the measures of GDP, market size and contributions to international aid", he added. Yet from Haiti to Iran, Afghanistan to Yemen, Cuba to transatlantic relations, the EU's voice so far has "failed to match our aspirations", he said, urging an "ambitious programme" to remedy this. The Commission's political orientation must reflect the outcome of the 2009 elections, he concluded.
Martin Schulz of the Socialist and Democrats complained that the Commissioners-designate had taken a "vow of silence" during the hearings, imposed by President Barroso, in order not to say anything wrong. Those who entered into a real dialogue with the Parliament, such as Michel Barnier, Joaquin Almunia and Kristalina Georgieva, had "gained standing". The Commission needs to work as a college and must not be run like a "presidential system", said the German leader.
Guy Verhofstadt of the Liberal ALDE said his bloc "is a responsible group" and would vote in favour, although "our support will be conditional". He expected the new Commission to "become a driving force for Europe, which has not been the case for the last five years" and that they work as a real college, with a strong sense of unity and the ability to find polices backed by the three different political families that compose the college, among them the liberals. Finally, the new Commission needs to "focus on one main task: to find an answer to the economic crisis and a workable strategy to Europe 2020. Don't listen too much to Member States", he concluded.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, of the Greens/EFA group, believed he was in the presence of "a coalition of hypocrites", as many MEPs would vote for a Commission they did not really support. Most of the Commissioners-designate had not displayed enough "vision and ambition" in their hearings but MEPs would still back them, thus implying that "all the minuses produce a plus". Cohn-Bendit said his group would not vote in favour of the Commission but added "don't say those who don't vote for you are against Europe". He promised the Commission his group's support on various issues if it took the right action, for example on climate change or the regulation of financial markets.
On behalf of his group, Czech Jan Zahradil (ECR) said to Mr Barroso "In 2005, you came up with the idea of cutting red tape by simplifying legislation. Why not revive this idea now?". He added "If you demonstrate that you're a reformer, we shall back you, but if you follow well-trodden paths, we shall stand up and resist you".
Lothar Bisky (GUE/NGL) criticised the neoliberal stance of the Commission President. The new college of Commissioners would also reflect this. "You will not get the approval of my group and you can expect harsh, but fair, exchanges of views with your college".
For the EFD group, Nigel Farage (UK) told Mr Barroso "what we have before us here is the new government of Europe, a government that with the Lisbon Treaty now has enormous powers" including "the ability now to use emergency powers to literally take countries over, and yet what we have heard from the European Parliament’s big group leaders this morning is the demand that you take even more powers!" He argued that "poor Greece" is "trapped inside the economic prison of the euro" and "the same is going to happen to Spain, to Portugal and to Ireland".
The election vote was preceded by hearings of the Commissioners-designate organised by the committees of Parliament in January and February. Each committee sent an evaluation letter on the respective Commissioner-designate to the Conference of Presidents (a body consisting of the EP President and the political group leaders). All these evaluations were positive, and on 4 February the Conference of Presidents gave the go-ahead for the vote to take place.