There's been an interesting progression to one of Bertie Ahern's achievements as president of the European Council of Ministers in 2004. His key EU deals from that era were the selection of compromise candidate Jose Manuel Barroso as head of the Commission, and the easing out of his own finance minister, and potential rival, Charlie McCreevy, into the internal markets slot at the Commission in Brussels. The moves always contained potential for trouble, because Barroso was very much the Atlanticist candidate, and McCreevy was likely to push on market liberalisation -- both of which could be expected to draw cool receptions in Paris and Berlin.
Step forward an apparently well-sourced article in the Financial Times, complete with insider accounts of meetings and quotes, describing the current state of affairs: to cut a long story short, Barroso has recognised that he has less leverage, let alone hope of a 2nd term, if France and Germany are annoyed at him, and so he has been quietly dumping the more aggressive parts of McCreevy's agenda. This seems to have contributed to a heated meeting last week, with the issue brought to a head by, yes, deregulation of the market for chimney sweeps in Germany --
Mr Barroso had asked Mr McCreevy to treat the two cases [incl. chimney sweeps] separately from other infringement procedures and to hold further talks with German officials. In an exchange described as "very tough", the president was eventually persuaded that these cases should not be given special treatment.
Several of Mr Barroso's colleagues suspect he is trying to curry favour in Berlin and Paris to bolster his chances of winning a second mandate in 2009. The president last week, in effect, terminated a proposal by Mr McCreevy to reform the EU's copyright levies regime after intense lobbying from the French government.
"A lot of what he does can be explained by the fact he is looking to a second term," a senior EU official said. Mr Barroso enjoys British support, but France and Germany opposed his appointment and he is trying to build relations with new politicians in those countries.
Barroso of course also realizes that a 27 member union has more countries than commission slots, so one traditional means of brokering a deal -- promising a cushy job to a recalcitrant government -- is gone. Hence the gravitation towards countries with more weight.