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The Coming Week in Europe: Prodi and Other Commissioners Must Prove Themselves

Also, Internet stocks could be of interest after AOL Europe's announcement of free access and steep price cuts.
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September is just around the corner.

Temperatures across the continent may not have yet cooled and European investors may still dusting Mediterranean sand from their luggage, but as August -- Europe's collective month of sloth -- beats a hasty retreat, a new season of political, economic and financial action is preparing to start.

Ironically, perhaps, the bureaucrats in Brussels, sometimes considered work-shy by both the media and the public, will lead the way in shaking off summertime torpor and getting down to business next week, as prospective EU commissioners begin their preliminary confirmation hearings with members of the European parliament on Monday.

After the last

EU Commission

was forced to resign amid accusations of corruption and cronyism, the onus is on designated

President Romano Prodi

and the other commissioners to prove they are above reproach. The hearings may provide insight into how productive or rancorous the commission's working relationship with the newly emboldened parliament will be.

The EU's statisticians will also be busy in the coming week, releasing figures for euro zone's trade and current account balances on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. France will also publish labor market figures for July on Tuesday, although the unemployment rate is expected to remain steady at 11.3%.

While out-of-work Frenchmen may prey upon the minds of Parisian politicians, the markets will likely be more interested in the bevy of August purchasing managers indices to be released on Wednesday for Germany, Italy, France and the U.K., which could point to accelerating output in the coming months.

Now that the U.S.

Federal Reserve

has gotten its interest rate hike out of the way, equity market participants may also feel it's time to get back into the action as well. Of interest could be Internet stocks after

AOL Europe

, a unit of

America Online


, shook up the continent's two largest online markets last week by announcing free access service and steep price cuts in the U.K. and Germany, respectively.

AOL Europe's leadership was unrepentant about unleashing a possible price war in Germany or losing some of its paying customers to its free


service in the U.K, however. "We aren't expecting any particular counter-reactions.

Competitors will set their prices according to their own economic reasoning," said Chief Executive

Andreas Schmidt

at a press conference in Berlin Thursday.

Whether dramatic price cuts could affect the plans of

Deutsche Telekom


CEO Ron Sommer to float the company's Internet service,


, remains unclear, although the company will have a chance to answer AOL's challenge during a press conference at a consumer electronics and technology convention in Berlin on Monday.

Sommer, however, most certainly will be one of the few Europeans who won't notice the change in pace next week. After all, the vacation-free executive worked feverishly all summer cutting deals.