Brussels rules out Mandelson investigation

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The European Commission today attempted to draw a line under the growing clamour for full disclosure about Peter Mandelson's official contacts during his four years as the EU's Trade Commissioner.

Officials in Brussels said there were no grounds for an official investigation into Mr Mandelson's behaviour, and insisted they would not make public the list of high-level professional links which would reveal the extent of his relationship with aluminium magnate Oleg Deripaska.

And although there are strict rules under the Commission's code of conduct about entertainment and the registration of gifts, Commissioners do not have to declare or register what they do or who they spend time with on holiday.

A Commission spokesman said: "It is for Mr Mandelson to decide if he wishes to provide a list of his social engagements.

"The Commission's position remains clear that we are not aware of circumstances suggesting any breach of rules or a conflict of interest.

"No evidence for such claims has been brought forward. The Commission considers therefore that there are no grounds for an investigation."

In the last fortnight the most senior Commission official in Mr Mandelson's department, Trade Director-General David O'Sullivan, has issued a statement insisting Mr Mandelson had not unduly interfered in decisions on aluminium imports which benefited Mr Deripaska to the tune of millions of pounds a year.

But the demand for more details from Brussels about Mr Mandelson's dealings as Trade Commissioner has refused to go away.

Officials admitted today there has been "corridor talk" in the Commission about whether records of Mr Mandelson's meetings and contacts should be revealed - but no formal meetings on the issue.

But there is deep frustration inside the Commission that Brussels is unwittingly being drawn into what is being seen as an issue involving Mr Mandelson's social contacts and nothing to do with his Commission work.

The spokesman said: "The Director-General for Trade has categorically set out that all the decisions (on EU trade policy) that have been subject to some press speculation were reached in an entirely standard and routine manner and there was no political interference whatsoever by Peter Mandelson.

"Let's remember that these decisions were taken in a transparent manner and were endorsed by not only all 27 commissioners but also all member states."

The EU's current code of conduct for commissioners was drawn up in the wake of a scandal in which the entire team of commissioners resigned in 1999 over the way French Commissioner Edith Cresson appointed a close friend - a dentist - to a well-paid job as an EU adviser. The rules were updated in 2004.

The current code says commissioners have to register any gift with a value of more than 150 euro (120 pounds) and must declare meals made for by third parties or that the value can be deducted from the daily allowances when "on mission" - travelling on business.

But there are no general rules on "hospitality", which is covered in a catch-all declaration that "obviously the general rules of ethics and integrity apply".

The code states: "The general interest requires that in their official and private lives commissioners should behave in a manner that is in keeping with the dignity of their office. Ruling out all risks of a conflict of interests helps to guarantee their independence."

Article 213 (2) of the EU Treaty requires that commissioners give a solemn undertaking that "both during and after their term of office they will respect the obligations arising therefore and in particular their duty to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance, after they have ceased to hold office, of certain appointments and benefits" .