Brittan is losing out in Europe carve-up

Click to follow
A FIGHT over turf in the new European Commission threatens to erode the power of Sir Leon Brittan, Britain's senior commissioner.

Jacques Santer, the new President of the Commission, is struggling to allocate the new portfolios. Sir Leon risks losing part of his extensive barony, which at the moment includes trade and external economic affairs. Mr Santer's plan would leave him running trade relations with the developed countries, notably the US and Japan, but strip him of responsibility for Eastern Europe and emerging Asian countries.

Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader who becomes Britain's second commissioner in January, seems set for the transport portfolio. Although relatively unexciting, this job may grow with the EU's plans for Trans-European Networks, multi-billion pound infrastructure links.

Sir Leon faces a very difficult situation. The mood of some other governments, and Commission officials, inclines towards a poor deal for Britain in what will be an award share-out of a limited number of jobs between a growing number of commissioners. The Commission will grow from 17 to 21 if Sweden and Norway join Austria and Finland in voting to join the EU in the new year.

The acrimonious battle over voting earlier this year, John Major's veto of the original candidate for Commission president, and increasing irritation with Tory antics have created a difficult atmosphere, say Brussels sources.

'The Brits lost a hell of a lot credibility,' said one. 'People want vengeance.'

The Commission is the executive bureaucracy of the EU. The commissioners, who head the organisation, are nationally appointed. They are supposed to be above national considerations but the allocation of their portfolios is subject to considerable national lobbying. Mr Santer has said that he wants to wrap up the new Commission at a special 'bishops conclave' in a castle in his native Luxembourg on 29 October.

In the new Commission, the barriers between political and economic affairs will be broken down, and a split made on geographical lines. But Sir Leon is fighting to ensure he maintains as much power as possible. France seems to have done well, securing key economic jobs.

Hans van den Broek, the Dutch commissioner, looks after external political relations at the moment. Mr van den Broek has been offered Eastern Europe, but has been told that the sensitive political aspects will be dealt with by Mr Santer himself.

Mr van den Broek threatened to resign, Brussels sources said yesterday, if he lost influence in this area.

Part of the foreign affairs portfolio - covering relations with the Mediterranean nations - has already been given to Manuel Marin, one of the Spanish commissioners. Mr Marin irritated several of his colleagues by breaking the official silence and announcing the fact on Tuesday.

Joao de Deus Pinheiro, the Portuguese commissioner, will look after relations with the developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

The row results from an attempt to make the running of EU foreign policy clearer. Mr van den Broek and Sir Leon have repeatedly clashed over turf, and the present spat shows that this is likely to continue. But in other areas, too, the issue is full of problems: the EU's new Common Foreign and Security Policy has proved virtually impossible to run, and the European Court of Justice is trying to unscramble the meaning of key legislation.

Padraig Flynn, the Irish commissioner, was expected to be asked last night if he wanted to take the agriculture portfolio. Mr Flynn had previously refused the job, saying he wanted to retain his existing job in social affairs. But there are plans to give the social affairs portfolio to one of the Scandinavian countries - probably Sweden.

------------------------------------------------------------- LIKELY COMMISSION APPOINTMENTS ------------------------------------------------------------- Jacques Santer (Lux) President Undecided (Fin) Regional Policy?

Sir Leon Brittan (UK) Ext Trade/E Europe?

Neil Kinnock (UK) Transport M Bangemann (Ger) Inform technly Wulf-Mathies (Ger) Budget Edith Cresson (Fr) R & D/Industry de Silguy (Fr) Monetary affairs Mario Monti (It) Economic policy Undecided (It) Internal Market Manuel Marin (Sp) Mediterranean/Asia?

M Oreja (Sp) Institutional Affairs Van den Broek (Nth) Eastern Europe?

Pinheiro (Port) Developing countries Karel Van Miert (Bel) Competition policy Padraig Flynn (Ire) Agriculture Undecided (Swe) Social policy Undecided (Nor) Energy?

Undecided (Aust) Internal Affairs?

Papoutsis (Gre) Fisheries?

Ritt Bjerregard (Den) Environment ------------------------------------------------------------- (Photograph omitted)