Saturday

25th Feb 2017

Trade commissioner Mandelson resigns

  • Commissioner Mandelson is to rejoin the UK cabinet (Photo: European Community, 2006)

In a surprise move, European Union trade commissioner Peter Mandelson is to leave his position with the EU's executive and take up the position of secretary of state for business in UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown's reshuffled cabinet.

Mr Mandelson, a longtime antagonist of Mr Brown's faction within the UK Labour Party, has been asked to return to London to help the prime minister grapple with the current financial crisis.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Having twice resigned from the UK government under the cloud of corruption allegations, Mr Mandelson is reportedly to be offered a peerage so he may sit at the cabinet table.

From commissioner to peer

The leader of the House of Lords, Cathy Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, is to replace Mr Mandelson as the UK's commissioner.

Commission president Barroso has decided to attribute the trade portfolio to Ms Ashton, allowing the UK to maintain its dossier, a move the commission president did not make following the resignation of former justice and home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini, after he resigned in May, to take up the position of foreign minister in Silvio Berlusconi's new government.

Then, Mr Barroso offered the justice portfolio to French commissioner Jacques Barrot, and gave transport to the incoming Italian commissioner, Antonio Tajani.

Mr Brown picked a peer to avoid a by-election at time when the prime minister's party is fairing poorly in the polls.

Cheers and tears

The commissioner's departure left European business representatives in Brussels saddened to see such a champion of their interests move on.

Development NGOs and fair trade campaigners, meanwhile, who have repeatedly criticised Mr Mandelson's positions, cheered the development.

"Considering his 'interesting' sojourn in the UK government in the past, I was surprised to see the announcement that he would be returning," said Stuart Newman, an advisor with the Brussels-based Foreign Trade Association, an alliance of national trade associations promoting liberalisation of markets.

"However, I also feel that his departure from the EU Trade Commissioner's post will be a loss for the supporters of free trade such as the many importers and retailers throughout Europe," he added.

"I only hope that he can continue his non-protectionist views in his new position as secretary of state for business."

Julian Oram, head of policy at the World Development Movement, a UK development charity, welcomed Mr Mandelson's departure.

"Peter Mandelson's reign in Brussels as Trade Commissioner has been characterised by a truly aggressive approach to trade with developing countries, and a determination to prioritise the interests of European big business at all costs," she said.

"Whether at the World Trade Organisation, or in trade negotiations with countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, he has lectured and arguably bullied developing countries to accept unfair trade deals, no matter the cost to subsistence farmers and manufacturing jobs locally."

The charity said they hoped the new commissioner will "bring a breath of fresh air to EU policy.

"It is imperative that DG Trade overhauls its thinking and places sustainable development, rather than the interests of European multinationals, at its heart," Ms Oram added.

Oxfam, the international development NGO, sharply criticised the outgoing commissioner, as well, with Luis Morago, head of the group;s Brussels office, saying: "Commissioner Mandelson, unfortunately, failed to ensure that the EU put development ahead of self-interest in its trading relations with its former colonies ... The commission has sought many concessions from African, Caribbean and Pacific [ACP] countries likely to undermine their prospects for economic development."

The group called "on Ashton to take a new approach to EU trade policies, including rethinking the partnership agreements between the European Union and the ACP countries, by placing development at the heart of the negotiations."

Although Ms Ashton's views on trade are not yet widely know, judging from a July 2008 House of Lords discussion on WTO negotiations, it appears she will not differ significantly from Mr Mandelson's general framework.

During the debate, Ms Ashton said: "With regard to the Doha round, my money is on commissioner Mandelson.

"It is important that we continue to put pressure on trying to reach agreement."

'Didn't achieve much'

Brid Brennan, a trade analyst with the Transnational Institute, a Netherlands-based centre-left think-tank, wondered whether his failure to push through a series of trade agreements with the developing world and the collapse of the Doha Round of World Trade Organisation negotiations had any bearing on his resignation.

"Apart from some initials from governments such as Ghana, the Ivory Coast and Cameroon - and this still didn't mean these governments intended to approve the European Partnership Agreements [the contentious EU trade agreements with ACP nations]," she said, "Mandelson's way of negotiating didn't achieve much other than provoking increased apprehension and protests in Latin America and Africa."

MEPs set to approve Canada trade deal

The European Parliament is expected to give the green light to the EU-Canada free trade agreement, which would start being implemented in April.

EU leaders to discuss migration, in Trump's shadow

New US president Trump overshadows the Malta summit of EU leaders on Friday, as they discuss the bloc's future amid new geopolitical realities, and step up efforts to stop migration via Libya from North African countries.

EU leaders must stand up to Trump, say MEPs

MEPs have urged the EU to stand up for European values, starting with rejecting Trump's presumed choice for US ambassador, who has stated that he wants to "tame" the bloc.

France's Macron issues Brexit warning

The centrist presidential candidate tells talented Britons to come to France and warns against giving the UK "undue advantages" after Brexit, in a speech in London.

French police raid Le Pen's party office

Officers raid the National Front headquarters near Paris over allegations that leader Marine Le Pen used fake EU parliament contracts to pay her personal staff.

News in Brief

  1. Spanish court jails former IMF chief Rato
  2. Macron proposes Nordic-style economic model for France
  3. Germany posts record high budget surplus
  4. Labour ousts Ukip in Brexit homeland
  5. Dutch lower house approves EU-Ukraine treaty
  6. WTO says Russian pork ban was illegal
  7. Belgian nuclear plant made 'significant progress' on safety
  8. Report: Commission gauging EU support for Poland sanctions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EURORDISJoin the Rare Disease Day and Help to Advocate for More Research on Rare Diseases
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceStudents Who Are Considered Fit Get Better Grades in School
  3. QS World MBA TourMeet with Leading International Business Schools in Paris on March 4th
  4. Malta EU 2017Economic Governance: Agreement Reached on Structural Reform Support Programme for Member States
  5. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  6. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  7. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  8. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  9. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  10. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  12. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  2. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year
  3. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe
  4. Salzburg Global SeminarToward a Shared Culture of Health: Charting the Patient-Clinician Relationship
  5. European Free AllianceAustria Should Preserve & Promote Bilingual and Multinational Carinthia
  6. Martens CentreShow Your Love for Democracy! Take Part in Our Contest: "If It's Broken, Let's Fix It"
  7. CISPECloud Computing Leaders Establish Data Protection Standards to Protect Customer Data
  8. Malta EU 2017Landmark Deal Reached With European Parliament on Portability of Online Content
  9. Belgrade Security ForumBSF 2017: Building a Common Future in the Age of Uncertainty
  10. CESIEU Not to Revise the Working Time Directive
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAzerbaijan: 76 NGOs Urge the EU to Use President's Visit to Insist on Human Rights Reforms
  12. UNICEFDeadliest Winter for Migrant Children Crossing the Central Mediterranean