Current Affairs

Gay commissioner will not be “bullied” by Sarkozy

Tony Grew July 8, 2008
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The row between the European Commissioner for External Trade and the President of France over the world trade talks is over, said one of the protagonists.

Peter Mandelson, the former Cabinet minister and the only openly gay man to be appointed to the Commission, today told the BBC that “I’m not to be bullied” by Mr Sarkozy.

France took over the rotating EU Presidency at the beginning of this month.

The country’s President has accused Mr Mandelson of trying to force a deal on EU leaders ahead of World Trade Organisation meetings this month.

The Trade Commissioner will lead the EU delegation.

There is disagreement about the large subsidies European farmers and other industries receive and the WTO talks in Doha have repeatedly stalled over the issue.

France benefits from the current system and sees Mr Mandelson as hostile to them and endangering European jobs.

The former Northern Ireland Secretary said on BBC Radio 4 this morning:

“I think it (the row) is over, I think everyone recognises that this is not about individual personalities.

“President Sarkozy, like all European heads of government, will recognise that we want the world to enter a new era of freer trade of fewer barriers between countries.”

Last month Mr Sarkozy accused Mr Mandelson of contributing to the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by Irish voters.

“The question of the World Trade Organisation was clearly mentioned in Ireland,” he said.

“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’s office said in response: “The Doha round (of WTO talks) is a global negotiation which will stabilise and lock in the openness that has guaranteed our welfare over decades, and lifted hundreds of millions of people around the world out of poverty.

“This is not about individuals – not Peter Mandelson, not Pascal Lamy, not President Sarkozy. It is about giving the global economy a shot in the arm in order to be able to face the current economic pressures.”

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 50 most influential LGBT people in British politics.

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

Mr Mandelson was among Tony Blair’s closest advisers and when Labour came to power in 1997.

Hated by many in his own party, 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.

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