Denis MacShane is an unusual character. Rather a loose cannon as Europe Minister, he’s undoubtedly one of the most pro-EU MPs in the Labour Party. But his article on Comment is Free about European Commissioner for Trade Peter Mandelson is wide of the mark, although the main gist of the article is fine.
Essentially MacShane’s line is that the European Commission has been right to argue for the reduction of agricutural tariffs in the WTO – it helps the world’s poor. He’s also right that France and Ireland are at the opposite end of the spectrum to the UK on agricuture – put up the barrier protectionists, and that Sarkozy was wrong to vehemently attack Peter Mandelson, blaming him for the French No vote. Bit cheap because the French were to blame for the European Constitution balls-up.
But where MacShane is wrong is how he descibes Mandelson’s job – he states Sarko’s “exaggerated abuse of a high civil servant is no way to convince voters that European leaders are mature and serious about making Europe work” (my emphasis). Sorry, but what planet is MacShane on? Mandelson, and indeed any of the 27 Commissioners are closer to Cabinet Ministers if we’re to make a comparison to the UK than they are similar to Permanent Secretaries. Mandelson takes a liberal view of trade because that’s his political standpoint. While the College of Commissioners (the collective name for the 27 of them) might lack ideological coherency it’s nevertheless more a political body and less an administrative group.
There was even a consensus in 2004 that the President of the Commission should come from the political family that had the greatest representation in the European Parliament. In my opinion politicisation of the European Commission is a good thing (that’s why I suppose Who’s Your Candidate) and it’s no good for people like MacShane to try to make it look like Mandy is some sort of impartial administrator. He’s not. Full stop.
(Aside: MacShane has always managed to be on French radio more than UK radio because he speaks French – he has a snide go at Mandelson’s lack of French in the article too. Denis, il pÃªte parfois plus haut que son cul…)
[UPDATE] Silvio Berlusconi has also had a go at the European Commission (Euractiv story) because the members of the Commission say things that mean he has to answer in the Italian press. He says Commissioners had better keep their mouths closed. With Alitalia going to the wall and seeking state aid, thousands of tonnes of rubbish in the streets of Naples, and a Prime Minister with unprecedented control of the media then the Commission is absolutely right to criticise Italy and Berlusconi can shut up.