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European Parliament Approves New EU Executive Body

The European Parliament has approved the new European Commission, the European Union's executive body, after an unprecedented dispute during which the assembly managed to increase its institutional clout. The new commission will take office on Monday, three weeks later than scheduled.

Meeting in the French city of Strasbourg, the European Parliament voted by 449 to 149, with 82 abstentions, to approve the new 24-member executive body led by former Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso.

The legislature's major parties - conservatives, socialists and liberals - voted mostly in favor, while the greens, communists and euro-skeptics voted against approving the commission.

Last month, Mr. Barroso withdrew his initial line-up of commissioners after a majority in Parliament threatened to veto the team because of widespread opposition to Italy's nominee, Rocco Buttiglione.

Mr. Buttiglione, a conservative Catholic philosopher slated for the Justice post, offended liberals and leftists when he said he considered homosexuality a sin, although he vowed to uphold the rights of homosexuals.

Italy replaced Mr. Buttiglione with its foreign minister, Franco Frattini, who breezed through his confirmation hearings. Mr. Frattini has now left his post as foreign minister in order to join the new European Commission.

Latvia, whose original commissioner-designate, Ingrida Udre, also came under fire, replaced her with Andris Piebalgs, whom Mr. Barroso appointed as Energy Commissioner. His first nominee for that job, Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, was switched to the taxation portfolio after failing to impress legislators with his knowledge of energy matters.

Mr. Kovacs was also criticized by conservatives for his communist past, but because the parliament can only vote for or against the entire commission and not its individual members, the conservatives acquiesced to the Hungarian's continued presence on the team.

Mr. Barroso told reporters after the vote that the showdown with Parliament had been good for European democracy. "I see this as a win-win situation. We can both win, the European Parliament expanding its role for European democracy, and the European Commission also, because we need now, more than ever, a strong commission," he said. "Because, at 25 member states and more in the future, if we do not have an independent and credible commission, it will be very, very difficult, if not impossible, to run the European Union institutions in a positive and constructive way."

The European Parliament, often criticized as a rubber stamp and a paper tiger, emerged from its standoff with the commission as a body to be reckoned with in the future. It is the only directly-elected Europe-wide body and has vowed to continue flexing its muscles.

Legislators passed a non-binding resolution Thursday, calling on Mr. Barroso to fire any commissioner who loses the confidence of Parliament or to appear before them to justify his refusal to do so. Mr. Barroso acknowledged the resolution but cautioned the legislators not to exceed their powers.