In the dispute over Rocco Buttiglione the head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso has blinked, deferring a vote which would have seen his entire panel of 25 commissioners rejected by the European Parliament. Barring extraordinary dexterity, it looks as if he will have to either secure Buttiglione’s withdrawal or shunt him to a less controversial job.
This is, I think, a win for Henry Farrell’s side of the dispute with Dan Drezner. The EU Parliamentary majority has acted exactly as you would expect an ordinary parliamentary majority to act, without any apparent deference to the national governments of the countries whose citizens they represent. The attitudes of the British MEPs were particularly interesting. Not only did Labour MPs disregard any pressure from Blair (famously cosy with Berlusconi, and by implication with his nominee, Buttiglioni) but some Tories suggested they might vote No out of sheer bloody-mindedness.
The other point of interest is that the ‘nuclear option’ aspect of the issue turned out to be a paper tiger as usual. Much was made of the fact that the Parliament could not reject individual nominations, but only the entire proposal. This is like the restriction, found in many bicameral systems, where the Upper House cannot amend some bills, but can only accept or reject them. In practice, though, there’s always the option of rejecting the bill then stating “but we would pass an amended bill of the following form”. The limitation to accept or reject is effective only if acceptance or rejection is final. Conversely, suppose the Parliament had the power of voting on the candidates individually, accepting some and rejecting others. The head of the Commission could get around this by nominating the controversial candidates first, and making it clear that acceptance was all or nothing. In the end, all systems of this kind produce a bargained outcome.