Democracy, in its way, is on the march in Europe, too. The European Union's 25-country parliament, which sits in Strasbourg, is often ridiculed as a feckless talking shop and a retirement home for politicians who could never get elected to their national parliaments. Last week, though, at a time when Europeans were more riveted by the Bush-Kerry race than by what was going on in their own countries, the European parliament suddenly rendered itself (depending on how you look at it) either more democratic or more dangerous.
Incoming European Commission president Josť Manuel Dur o Barroso presented the parliament with a slate of 25 new commissioners. In the last days of October, the parliament rose in rebellion against Barroso's choice for justice minister, the Italian philosopher Rocco Buttiglione. Since the Commission serves as the E.U.'s executive branch (albeit an unwieldy, 25-headed one), the parliament has traditionally been allowed only to accept or reject it as a bloc. Parliament has never had the right to an advise-and-consent role such as the U.S. Senate enjoys. Until now. Barroso saw that the parliament had the will--and the votes--to reject Buttiglione even if it meant shutting down the European government. He postponed nominating the commission, promising to do "what is necessary, what is sufficient" to get the needed votes. Everyone knew what that meant. Three days later, Buttiglione withdrew his name from nomination.
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