EU wins some, you lose some: Kinnock jubilant - Brittan may quit

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The Independent Online
NEIL KINNOCK was looking jubilant as he toured the press room of the ugly functional building where EU ministers meet. 'I am absolutely delighted,' he said, and his smile showed he meant it.

Mr Kinnock is the new Transport Commissioner of the European Union. He got what he wanted - more, in fact - from the negotiations yesterday in Luxembourg. The post will include chairing the group charged with implementing massive new transport projects, which involves money and influence. He will have responsibility for large scale road and railway building plans, including the new high-speed link from London to the Channel Tunnel. He has plenty of Socialist colleagues in the Commission, and in the European parliament, where Labour is the single biggest group.

Sir Leon Brittan did not get what he wanted, and Mr Kinnock's political influence is likely to rise even further as a result. Grim-faced and subdued, Sir Leon said he was considering his position.

After what one official called an 'extraordinary' meeting, he emerged having lost charge of policy in eastern Europe. The position of the tough former Tory cabinet minister now looks very difficult. He asked that his disagreement be noted in the minutes. But that may not be enough: he may now want to resign and explain why he thinks he lost his job, and that could be embarrassing.

In Britain, this decision is bound to touch off an agonising debate. How far is the Conservative government's isolation responsible for the loss of Sir Leon's empire? John Major is bound to have lobbied for the job - unsuccessfully - with new EC President Jacques Santer. The avuncular Luxembourgeois owes his job partly to Mr Major's veto of the first candidate for the job, Jean-Luc Dehaene, but is unlikely to have returned any thanks.

In any case, he had been regarded by some as likely to bow to pressure for member states. Yesterday he showed a vein of toughness that will stand him in good stead. It will upset few Commissioners that this was used against a Briton.

Sir Leon remains as Commissioner in charge of trade policy and links with developed countries - an important job, but not the one he wanted. 'Leon really wanted eastern Europe,' said a Brussels source. The smooth lawyer played the negotiations badly this time, officials said. He refused to concede anything until it was too late. In the end, he accepted the loss of trade policy if he could keep eastern Europe, but by then it was too late.

'He was asking us all to concede, but he would not,' said an official. Sir Leon's tough style stood him in good stead in the Gatt talks last year, but may have been counter-productive yesterday.

In the next five years, central and eastern Europe is by far the biggest challenge to the EU, and by extension the Commission. It is as much to do with the EU's internal workings as foreign policy. The Common Agricultural Policy will have to be reformed, decision-making rethought, and protectionism dismantled. It was always evident that it would be the main prize in the Commission raffle.

In any case, more rested on this than just job descriptions. Mr Santer wants to reintroduce an element of greater collegiality to the Commission, reducing the tensions between the Commissioners and eroding the baronies of the last decade. He planned to start with foreign policy, making sure that he imprinted his authority early. The other new faces around the table yesterday must have wondered what they had let themselves in for. Franz Fischler, the new Agriculture Commissioner from Austria, has landed a plum job but one that will attract more than its fair share of trouble over the next five years. Perhaps he is used to it: Mr Fischler has spent large amounts of his life as a real farmer, up to his lederhosen in pig ordure.

Edith Cresson, one of the new French Commissioners, is on record as thinking the English are all gay and that Japan is a nation of worker-ants - comments that obviously mark her out for high international office. Then there is Emma Bonino, the radical feminist Italian Commissioner nominated late on Friday, an event that has touched off a political storm in Italy.

For one man, yesterday's meeting may be particularly poignant. Thorvald Stoltenberg, the Norwegian nominee, must have been wondering what was going wrong with his life. A high flier who was defence and foreign minister, then United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, he was charged with making peace (or not) in Yugoslavia, failed to get the job of Nato chief, and is now set to be in charge of fish. If, that is, his Europhobic countrymen agree on membership; otherwise it is back to Radovan Karadzic and Lord Owen.