In a surprise move, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso announced Tuesday that should his top justice official, Franco Frattini, resign, he would be replaced by Jacques Barrot, his current transport commissioner. ( dpa )
Citing the "complex and sensitive work" of the justice, liberty and security portfolio, Barroso's office said in a statement that if Frattini were to go, the commission chief would ask Barrot "to take responsibility for the portfolio for the rest of the mandate."
Consequently, the replacement for Frattini, which would have to be nominated by the Italian government, would be placed in charge of the transport portfolio that is current held by Barrot, officials said.
Barrot, a conservative politician from France, temporarily took over his colleague's post following Frattini's decision to enter the Italian election campaign.
Frattini, who like Barrot is a commission vice-president, has since taken unpaid leave from his job in Brussels ahead of his probable appointment as foreign minister in the incoming Silvio Berlusconi government.
Prior to Tuesday's statement by Barroso, the person widely tipped to replace Frattini was Antonio Tajani, a longtime associate of Berlusconi who currently sits in the European Parliament.
While the commission chief is fully entitled to reshuffle his cabinet, the decision by Barroso was unusual and surprised many observers.