Mandelson appoints French aides to win influence in Paris

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The Independent Online

Peter Mandelson, Britain's new European commissioner, has lined up a Frenchwoman as his official press officer, as part of a concerted offensive to boost his contacts and influence in France, where he is unpopular.

Peter Mandelson, Britain's new European commissioner, has lined up a Frenchwoman as his official press officer, as part of a concerted offensive to boost his contacts and influence in France, where he is unpopular.

Claude Veron-Reville, a highly rated Eurocrat, will be the second senior French adviser Mr Mandelson has chosen. The appointment follows his recent coup in poaching his deputy chef de cabinet from the team of France's European commissioner, Jacques Barrot.

Mr Mandelson, who is due to take up his new role in November, is appointing the group of close advisers to help him manage his trade portfolio.

Technically, Mr Mandelson can only put forward his preferred candidate for the job as the appointment has to be made by the European Commission's chief press spokesperson, a position which has yet to be filled. However, the move to recruit a French official is seen in Brussels as an astute move for Mr Mandelson. France is traditionally hostile to measures that could undermine the Common Agricultural Policy, deregulate industry or hamper its right to subsidise its film industry. That may make Paris difficult to handle for the incoming trade commissioner who does not speak French fluently.

Ms Veron-Reville, who is now an official working on EU policy in North Africa, once worked as a lobbyist for French farming interests. Half-French and half-Corsican, she is a graduate of the College of Europe, a breeding ground for future Eurocrats, and speaks excellent English. She has good credentials for selling his liberalising economic message to the French media and also fulfils one important criteria laid down by the new Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, that each spokesperson should be of a different nationality to their commissioner.

Nevertheless, her job will be tough. Mr Mandelson's appointment was controversial in France where, as a close ally of Tony Blair, he is seen as pro-American and ultra-liberal on economic policy.

One EU source said: "It is a smart move to get a French spokeswoman because the French are the ones likely to kick up a fuss for Mandelson, on agriculture, intellectual property rights and on trade rows with the US."

Meanwhile, Mr Mandelson's deputy chef de cabinet is to be Denis Redonnet, another highly rated French official. He worked for France's outgoing EU trade commissioner, Pascal Lamy. Mr Redonnet was expected to join the cabinet of the French commissioner.

Mr Mandelson's chef de cabinet, Simon Fraser, also has good contacts within the French establishment, having served as political counsellor at the British embassy in Paris. He also has excellent experience in the EU trade field.

Mr Mandelson is also expected to include his long-time ally Roger Liddle, who until recently served as adviser on Europe in the Downing Street Policy Unit. It remains unclear whether he will appoint an official to deal with the British press.

By giving his team a strong Francophone flavour, Mr Mandelson has mirrored the tactics of his direct predecessor in the trade portfolio, Mr Lamy. He poached a highly rated UK official, Matthew Baldwin, to serve as his deputy chef de cabinet as well as a British spokesman, Anthony Gooch.

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