Mandelson fends off EU’s back seat drivers

July 25, 2008

Mandelson - keep your hands off the wheelImagine 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?

5 comments

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Funny that a lot of Europeans have commented on the Obama blog, but not one comment on something as significant as this. Hey EU folks, help us Americans to understand European politics. ARGUE, for goodness sake. Its the only way we, as Americans, can understand your points of view. :)

Posted by Ptrizzle | Report as abusive

”Mariann and I then debrief European Member States. As the pressure has gone on in the Green Room, so the tension among member state officials overseeing the Commission’s work rises accordingly. 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. 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. Mariann and I leave no doubt that we understand our negotiating mandate. We make it clear that we think that the talks are in their endgame and that the risk of deadlock and failure is very real.”maybe this will make you understand alittle, but first i have to understand my self what is Sarkozy doing in the head lead of EU this year……….the boy has pasion for some other things not politics, and thta’s why he is so agresiv when it comes to this, you can define hem as nothing, sometimes he acts like he is british,a few times it’s true, sometimes like american , but many time like undefined , yes this is the word undefined!i say it again there is a big crisis of leaders , but there are talents out there, people should want excelency not just good, it’s no time for trying , but to succed as much as posible , yes!

Posted by Burca Alice Larisa | Report as abusive

This comment is to float an idea which I have not heard mentioned in the Doha/WTO negotiations as yet. Countries frequently subsidise industries to preserve their very existance: Swiss mountain and Welsh hill agriculture are examples, and their preservation is justified on cultural grounds. Countries,such as for example France and the US, also subsidise their corn and cotton farmers on a larger scale, for political reasons. This results in subsidised exports making farming uneconomic in 3rd world countries; which is abusive. The idea is to institute world wide export taxes on subsidised production: when it is exported, the exporter would be charged tax equal to the producer’s subsidy. This would mean that the goods would enter the world market at their real production costs, thus avoiding the crushing of 3rd world producers. It would make ‘dumping’ prohibitively expensive; but it would still leave cultural or even political price support possible, although more expensive to the states that practice it. This would limit over-production. But the buck would stop with the subsidising countries, without damaging others.

Posted by Robin Brown | Report as abusive

Robin, you make a very good point, the subsidy of unprofitable industries in developed countries is having a devastating effect in the less developed countries. This leads to many problems, which go deeper than simply depriving people of food (which of course is deplorable). The force farmers to grow alternative crops to make a living…Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe that if the subsidy of exported crops is halted we would see less production of drugs such a cocaine which farmers in Colombia etc. must produce to make a profit because the subsistence crops are available so cheap….I’m guessing that small time farmers don’t want to be at the beck and call of big time drug dealers! Stopping subsidies will have far reaching effects, not just in developing countries but also on our doorstep!

Posted by Billy F | Report as abusive

It´s true, Europeans don´t really want some beaurocrat supremo negotiating on their behalf. Each nation prefers to protect it´s own interests and populations expect that. Nobody would really want to become like the United States. Cultural differences are much greater than they were in the United States and look what happened there. An envoy should have no power to sign without seeking the endorsement of the individual states. An enforced agreement is only likely to cause resentment.

Posted by J C | Report as abusive