Mandelson fends off EU’s back seat drivers
Imagine driving a car with 27 people on the back seat trying to steer. That’s the image Peter Mandelson painted of his role negotiating at the World Trade Organisation on behalf of all European Union countries – some of which are not entirely supportive of the way he is taking things.
Although the EU gave the trade commissioner a negotiating mandate for the crunch talks under way in Geneva, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, hardly Mandelson’s greatest fan, said he would not sign up to the deal on the table.
Not only does Mandelson have to put up with public barbs from the French leader, he also has to report back daily to national EU delegates who have followed him to Geneva to ensure he keeps to the mandate they gave him. In his blog, Mandelson says it will increasingly be the case in the EU that member states will have to learn to keep quiet and let their representative do the talking.
“There is no question that the decision to negotiate collectively in the WTO gives European member states much greater weight in the WTO and the global trading system, but it does require 27 proud diplomatic services to take a back seat to the EU’s negotiators at exactly the moment when every instinct tells them to have a hand on the wheel,” he said.
“It’s a reminder that so much of the modern European experience of foreign affairs will involve developing the habits of coordination that give us a united voice and role in the world.”
The European Commission has been negotiating on behalf of EU member states for many years on big ticket issues like trade and climate change, but with Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty to reform the bloc’s institutions and create an EU foreign policy supremo, do Europeans still relish the idea of Brussels representing them on the global stage?