Mandelson appointed to lead EU trade

Key points

• Mandelson put in charge of EU trade

• Commission’s powerful economic positions go to smaller nations

France and Germany lose out as they receive weaker positions

Key quote

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"The new commission will have a definite bias towards people who are in favour of reforming the European economy" - Alasdair Murray, Centre for European reform analyst

Story in full PETER Mandelson’s long-held wish for a heavyweight political job was granted yesterday when he was appointed the European Union’s new trade commissioner.

The job will put the twice-sacked cabinet minister in charge of negotiating international trade relations on behalf of 350 million people, and give him a seat at the table with global economic leaders when trade deals are drawn up.

Mr Mandelson’s position in the 25-strong European Commission was announced yesterday as part of a package of appointments that left British officials beaming, and their French equivalents glowering.

Instead of securing one of the key economic posts in the commission, France’s Jacques Barrot was put in charge of transport. Germany’s Gnter Verheugen was made vice-president for enterprise and industry which, despite the title, will give him little influence over the European economy.

Instead, powerful jobs overseeing the EU’s economic reform programme went to small nations with a tradition of pushing for more open, flexible markets.

Charlie McCreevy, Ireland’s former finance minister, was put in charge of the EU’s single market. Neelie Kroes-Smit, a former Dutch transport minister and airline executive, got the competition commissioner’s job.

"The new commission will have a definite bias towards people who are in favour of reforming the European economy," said Alasdair Murray, an analyst at the Centre for European reform, a London think-tank with close ties to Downing Street.

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The important task of overseeing agriculture went to Mariann Fischer Boel, a former Danish farms minister who may keep up efforts to cut farm subsidies. The fisheries job was hived off from the agriculture portfolio and given to Joe Borg of Malta.

British officials considered the new commission a validation of their faith in Jose Manuel Barroso, the new commission president.

Tony Blair and his allies believe that reforming the European economy is the key to winning a referendum on the EU constitution: the Prime Minister fought hard for his old friend Mr Mandelson to get a major economic post.

"We are delighted that Peter Mandelson has been given such an important portfolio," said a Downing Street statement.

The trade commissioner is given a mandate from the EU members to negotiate for all 25 at World Trade Organisation talks.

The EU is already locked in legal disputes at the WTO with the United States administration on trade issues including US subsidies for its steel producers. Later this year, Mr Mandelson will find himself at the centre of a major international dispute amid a joint US- Canadian and Argentine complaint against EU’s restrictions on genetically-modified seeds.

Transatlantic trade relations could come under even greater strain if John Kerry defeats George Bush at the presidential election in November. The Democratic challenger has taken a protectionist stance on trade, pledging to control imports of steel and cotton.

"I’m excited at being given this responsibility, both for trade policy and the international dimension of competitiveness," Mr Mandelson said yesterday.

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"Europe will continue to benefit from globalisation as long as trade and investment are further liberalised, and if Europe preserves its long-term competitiveness, its capacity for innovation and its social market economy."

Mr Mandelson will take up his post in November, provided that he is endorsed by the European Parliament. That should be a rubber-stamping exercise, even though Conservative and UK Independence Party MEPs have threatened to challenge the appointment.