Mandelson puts jobs before social policies

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The Independent Online

Job creation and economic growth have taken priority over EU social and environmental measures, the European Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, said last night, in what he hailed as a significant shift of policy.

Mr Mandelson said the traditional priorities of the European Commission had been reordered in a five-year programme designed to focus on regenerating the European economy.

His comments are likely to be greeted with alarm in France, the traditional defender of the notion of "social Europe". And Nordic nations have put environmental standards at the centre of their agenda.

Mr Mandelson also put himself in opposition to Tony Blair by backing calls for an increased budget for the EU from 2007-13. The UK is one of a clutch of net contributors to the EU which want to peg spending at 1 per cent of gross national income. The Trade Commissioner's comments followed the launch of a work programme for the next five years by the European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso.

Mr Mandelson said: "Making growth and jobs a hallmark and centrepiece is significant because the [previous] Prodi Commission never put economic reform agenda at the heart of its programme." He added: "It is also a challenge to the Brussels consensus where, traditionally, economic goals are put on a par with social and environmental ones."

Business has complained of the burden of EU regulations. The Commission has promised that new draft laws will be subjected to an impact assessment before being proposed.

Mr Barroso said there "may be" differences over state intervention in industrial policies, after the Competition Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, gave an interview promising a review of state aid laws and attacking the idea of "European champions". That was seen as an attack on the Industry Commissioner, Günther Verheugen.

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