[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 6 December, 2004, 08:51 GMT
Mandelson sets pace in new EU post
By Tim Franks
BBC Europe correspondent in Brussels

It is 0820 on a dingy Brussels morning and the new commissioner for trade emerges from a serviced apartment block and gets into his chauffeured car.

Peter Mandelson
Peter Mandelson's job puts him in a powerful position

His destination is the Berlaymont, the commission's spanking newly refurbished headquarters.

Peter Mandelson is now one of the most powerful men in Europe. The European Union is, by some measures, the world's largest trading bloc.

Member states have handed the European Commission pretty much sole responsibility for all the international trade deals, which gives Mr Mandelson more clout than most UK Cabinet ministers.

First meeting of the day is with his cabinet - his team of senior advisors.

He is preparing for the weekly meeting of all the commissioners. Top of the agenda: what to do with Ukraine. Bottom of the agenda: the British press.

Swept along

Then it is off to the two-hour meeting of the College of Commissioners - at exactly the furious pace all self-respecting public figures seem to move, along with their entourage - not so much a walk as a sweep down the corridors.

On Mr Mandelson's return from the 13th floor there is a key briefing, ahead of a smaller meeting of commissioners - those who are expected to lead the charge to make the EU economy more competitive.

The briefing is with another member of the Mandelson cabinet, Roger Liddle, formerly Tony Blair's special advisor on Europe.

Mandelson's office: the revamped Berlaymont in Brussels

It is the defining task that the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, has set the EU for the next five years.

Mr Mandelson believes there is wide support. Mr Liddle is not so sure.

Mr Mandelson forged his reputation as the power behind the throne. Now he expects to be treated on a par with top ministers around the world.

As trade commissioner he has the power to negotiate multi-billion dollar deals with other trading blocs, he will fight fabulously expensive cases in the court of world trade, the WTO, and perhaps most importantly he will be expected to help rescue the next round of world trade talks.

Sensitive subsidies

That will depend heavily on whether developing countries accept the conditions on which they are expected to open their markets - which makes Mr Mandelson's next appointment - at the ACP - all the more sensitive.

The ACP is the 77-strong African Caribbean and Pacific group of countries, many of them horrendously underdeveloped.

They are having a meeting of trade and foreign ministers in Brussels.

I've got a job to do, I enjoy it very much, it's a huge challenge and I'm going to give it all I've got
Peter Mandelson

Mr Mandelson has a message for them: Contrary to what they might have heard, "I am not a simplistic liberal on the subject of trade."

These poor countries are suspicious. They receive a big chunk of their tax revenue from import tariffs and they fear that they simply cannot compete when farmers in Europe, America and Japan are so heavily subsidised.

And so for Mr Mandelson, a question from the Ugandan minister: "I would like you to know it from the word go, that we would like you in your position to address the issue of subsidy. How do you really intend to remove this injustice?"

Farming deal

To titters from the dignitaries another delegate suggests that other countries just pay those subsidies direct to the farmers in poor countries.

Mr Mandelson deals with the gentle basting he is getting by explaining that he is no French fan of Europe's Common Agricultural Policy.

"It's a very, very expensive, very trade-distorting path to take and I don't commend it to you."

Later, he insists that big reforms are underway in how Europe subsidises farmers.

The problem though is that in a deal made two years ago by France and Germany there is due to be no big reduction in the amount of money doled out to farmers over the next decade.

The applause for his words is, well, polite.

Deja vu

With that it is back to the office for more meetings and - tantalisingly - e-mails from London about UK Home Secretary David Blunkett and the questions over the procurement of a visa.

David Blunkett
Mr Mandelson received e-mails about the David Blunkett visa row

That is what, of course, forced Mr Mandelson to resign after his second stint as a UK Cabinet minister after questions were raised about whether he used his office to help someone get a passport.

Mr Mandelson says that whatever sounds you can hear from his office of the ninth floor of the Berlaymont it is not the grinding of teeth.

"All I would say about David [is] I'm very glad indeed that he has the benefit of an inquiry, the opportunity to show that he did nothing wrong.


"Of course I wish I'd had the same chance - I wouldn't be human if I didn't accept that, but then I think the government has learned from the experience of what happened over me.

"I'm sure that if they had their time again they would have done things differently with me. But that was three years ago. Time moves on.

"Do I have any regrets? Funnily enough, now that I'm here, I don't think I do.

"And anyway, what could I do about it if I did? I've got a job to do, I enjoy it very much, it's a huge challenge and I'm going to give it all I've got. "

Follow a day in the life of Peter Mandelson

Can Peter and Gordon ever make up?
25 Nov 04 |  Politics
Mandelson urges euro target date
22 Nov 04 |  Politics
Mandelson calls on EU to reform
08 Nov 04 |  Business
Profile: Peter Mandelson
13 Aug 04 |  Politics
Q&A: Mandelson's new job
04 Oct 04 |  Politics


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific