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Sarkozy blames Mandelson for Lisbon referendum defeat

Tony Grew June 20, 2008

The European Union Trade Commissioner has said that the President of France has “nothing against him personally” after Mr Sarkozy blamed him for the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by Irish voters.

Mr Mandelson has been the UK’s appointee in Brussels since November 2004 and last year was placed at number three on the list of the top 50 most influential LGBT people in British politics.

He is one of the few out politicians in the EU – only two out of 785 MEPs are openly gay.

Last week the Irish people rejected the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum, throwing the EU into confusion as to how to proceed.

France is reportedly displeased with Mr Mandelson’s emphasis on free trade at the expense of protectionism, an issue that also concerned Irish voters.

Mr Sarkozy said:

“We can’t blame (EU President) Barroso for this, choose another one, a better one, Mandelson for instance.

“The question of the World Trade Organisation was clearly mentioned in Ireland.

“It would be a nonsense to continue to negotiate an agreement in which we haven’t got anything on services, or an industry and which would lead to a 20% reduction in agricultural output in a world where there are 800 million people dying of hunger.”

Mr Mandelson later told Sky News “my skin is thick enough to take this.”

“President Sarkozy at his press conference was in fact asked to blame the President of the Commission, Mr Barroso, and he tactfully and diplomatically chose to blame me instead.

“I’m told that Mr Sarkozy has nothing against me personally.”

This is not the first time Mr Mandelson has aroused a strong reaction from fellow politicians.

The feud between the former spin doctor and Gordon Brown is the stuff of Westminster legend.

Mr Mandelson backed Mr Blair over his close friend Mr Brown for the leadership of the Labour party in 1994.

The Prime Minister is said to have nurtured a grudge against Mr Mandelson ever since.

One of the architects of New Labour, Mr Mandelson was among Tony Blair’s closest advisers and when Labour came to power in 1997, he was rewarded with the job of “co-ordinating the government,” in which he antagonised many more senior figures.

Hated by many in his own party and dubbed the “Prince of Darkness,” he was appointed to the Cabinet twice, but had to resign both times.

He was famously outed on national television by gay journalist Matthew Parris.

In March 2007, amid rumours that Gordon Brown would remove him when he took over as Prime Minister, Mr Mandelson was defiantly telling the BBC:

“I don’t know whether this is going to come as a disappointment to him, but he can’t actually fire me.

“So like it or not, I’m afraid he will have to accept me as Commissioner until November 2009.

“But I will not be seeking a nomination for a further term after that time.”

By March this year there was widespread speculation that the long-running feud between Mandelson and Brown was at an end and that the Prime Minister was going to offer his friend another five years in Brussels.

Gordon Brown quashed those rumours when he told reporters that Mr Mandelson would only serve one term.

“Peter Mandelson said he doesn’t want to become the next commissioner,” he said.

“I think it is important to say that Peter Mandelson has done a great job as commissioner and, of course, it is his wish to do something else.”

In the wake of the Irish rejection of the treaty, it is unclear how the EU will now move forward with the Lisbon Treaty.

“The Irish government and the governments of the other Member States will now need to assess what this result means for the process,” Mr Barosso said in a statement after the Irish vote.

“The Treaty was signed by all 27 Member States, so there is a joint responsibility to address the situation.

“The “no” vote in Ireland has not solved the problems which the Lisbon Treaty is designed to solve.

“The ratification process is made up of 27 national processes, 18 Member States have already approved the Treaty, and the European Commission believes that the remaining ratifications should continue to take their course.

“The EU institutions and the Member States should continue the work of delivering for the citizens of Europe on issues like growth and jobs, social cohesion, energy security, climate change and fighting inflation. Working together in the EU remains the best way to deal with the challenges affecting Europeans today.”

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