Mandelson linked to trade negotiations position for Europe Commissi

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The Independent Online

Peter Mandelson is being lined up for the job of managing trade negotiations on behalf of the 25 EU nations, one of the most important posts in the European Commission.

Peter Mandelson is being lined up for the job of managing trade negotiations on behalf of the 25 EU nations, one of the most important posts in the European Commission.

News of Mr Mandelson's likely post came after he held two hours of talks with the incoming president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, this week.

The appointment will not be definite until Mr Barroso, a former Portuguese premier, has allocated all the portfolios in his new team, around the middle of next month. If other key players refuse the positions they are offered, the entire line-up may have to be reconsidered.

But diplomats and officials say that Mr Barroso firmly favours giving Mr Mandelson the Trade portfolio, which was last held by the UK when Lord Brittan was commissioner between 1995-99.

Mr Mandelson has the background for the post. He has served as a Trade and Industry Secretary in the UK and has good contacts in the US, which is the EU's most important trading partner.

The appointment would be high profile because the success of the Doha world trade agreement, which would shape trade to help the world's poor, remains in the balance. The prospect of bringing these global trade talks to a successful resolution would provide Mr Mandelson with an opportunity to rehabilitate his political career after his two resignations from the Cabinet.

But there are some reservations in Whitehall. Britain had been pressing for the post of Internal Market commissioner, a job which is designed to ensure that trade across the 25-nation bloc is conducted on a level playing field and is not obstructed by national laws.

But France and Germany also had their eyes on the same position, making it politically difficult for Mr Barroso to allocate the job to any of the three biggest nations. Instead that post is likely to go to a commissioner from a smaller nation.

Whitehall was also wary of landing the trade job, despite its seniority, because of the amount of travel involved. That can remove the incumbent from much of the infighting in Brussels. However, the Government acknowledges that the portfolio is a prestigious position which it could not refuse.

Moreover, officials point out that the present Trade commissioner, Pascal Lamy, has enjoyed a high political visibility while remaining active within the European Commission.

The UK was also tempted to press for the competition portfolio, perhaps the most important job in Brussels because it gives the holder power to intervene over state aid and merger cases.

However, the senior official in this directorate, Philip Lowe, is British and he would probably have to be moved were Mr Mandelson to land the job to avoid the impression that one country was dominating that area.

Mr Barroso is hoping to finalise his team before he takes a summer break in the week beginning 23 August and is holding bilateral meetings with members of his new team.

Perhaps the biggest dilemma is what job to offer Germany's Commissioner, Günther Verheugen. Mr Barroso has already rejected a plan, favoured by Berlin, for Germany to be allowed to hold a new post of economic super-commissioner. He is now under pressure to cede Germany a prominent economic position in his new team to compensate.

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