Mandelson in denial over incestuous
relations DG Trade with big business
Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) Update, October 2004
According to media coverage, designate EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson pulled off "a bravura performance" at his confirmation hearing in the European Parliament on October 4th. These media reports forget to mention that the set-up of the hearing -- very short answers and only one 1 minute second term for follow-up - helped Mandelson to avoid having to respond seriously to inconvenient questions.
When MEP Vittorio Agnoletto (GUE, Italy) asked a question on the incestuous relations between DG Trade and lobby groups representing transnational corporations, Mandelson replied: "I am not conscious of any incestuous or damaging relationship. Look, the business community is one element among all the interests that the Trade Directorate needs to be involved with. And business is important because it actually carries out the trade that produces the wealth and the jobs."
Agnoletto explicitly asked Mr. Mandelson about the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) and the 'Framework for Delivery' which the European Commission established last year to accelerate implementation of TABD demands. He also referred to DG Trade relations with the European Services Forum (ESF). Instead of responding to these concrete examples, Mandelson's reaction was to imply that Agnoletto's question was not to be taken seriously.
Mandelson's non-response indicates that he has far from abandoned his old spin doctor habits. Almost two months after Commission President José Manuel Durão Barroso pro-posed him as designate Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson must certainly have been aware of the privileged status of the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD).
Co-founded in 1995 by Commissioner Leon Brittan, the 35 major EU and US corporations involved in the TABD hold far-reaching influence over EU trade and regulatory policies. The Business Dialogue routinely defines proposed new environment and consumer protections as 'obstacles to Transatlantic trade and investment'.
Dutch government documents on file with Corporate Europe Observatory reveal that the Commission in 2003 established "a 'Framework for Delivery' focused on involving the right Commissioners or DG's", in order to speed up implementation of TABD demands. The Commission also set up a "Horizontal Liaison Group", to ensure improved "mutual co-ordination among the cabinets of the Commissioners" (our translation from Dutch).
Given Mr. Mandelson's extensive written reply on transatlantic relations (in his response to written EP questions), it is highly improbable that Mr. Mandelson has not been briefed about the existence of these structures within the European Commission. 
Questions by an MEP about Mandelson's opinion on these matters certainly merit a substantial answer. By evading a real answer, Mr. Mandelson undermined the credibility of his self-proclaimed commitment to taking the European Parliament seriously ("I am a European Parliament man").
It is also extremely unlikely that DG Trade officials have not briefed Mr. Mandelson on their close relations with European Services Forum (ESF), a lobby coalition of large European services corporations working to influence the negotiations on services liberalisation (GATS) in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The ESF was established in 1999 at the initiative of the European Commission, which wanted an EU-level corporate lobby group that could assist the EU in the GATS negotiations. The group helped draft the EU's demands for services liberalisation in the rest of the world, which includes the liberalisation and privatisation of essential public services like water and education.
European Commission documents obtained by CEO leave no doubt that the Services Forum continues to enjoy very intimate relations with EU trade negotiators. After the ESF's visit to Geneva in March 2004 (including meetings with the WTO ambassadors of many developing countries), Commission officials asked the ESF for a meeting to be briefed on the outcomes. The meeting took place within days after. The ESF has at several occasions participated in meetings of the 133 Committee Services (consisting of Commission and Member State trade officials). On 25th November 2003 such a meeting took place at the ESF offices in central Brussels, followed by a cocktail party.
When Agnoletto asked Mandelson if he would provide transparency over these relations, Mandelson replied: "I don't feel the need to have any secrets". Clearly, Mandelson needs to be held to this promise.Mandelson also failed to provide a clear response to a second set of questions on corporate lobbying issues, raised by Belgian Green MEP Pierre Jonckheer. A press release by the Greens concluded that "Mandelson was forced onto the defensive" by the questions. "The Greens", said Pierre Jonckheer, want "a clear commitment from the Commissioner-designate that he will tackle the secret culture of corporate lobbying on trade matters and introduce a system of transparent registers – as already exists in the United States as a result of the lobbying disclosure act."
1: "Mandy plays to the galleries during MEPs’ question time", European Voice, 7 October 2004.
2: Minutes from a December 16 2003 meeting between an official of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and two high-level Unilever managers. http://www.corporateeurope.org/docs/TABDmemo20031216.pdf
3: European Parliament Hearings, Answers to Questionnaire for Commissioner Designate Mr Peter Mandelson (Trade), Part B - Specific questions http://www.europarl.eu.int/hearings/commission/2004_comm/pdf/speca_mandelson_en.pdf
4: E-mail correspondence (25 March 2004) between ESF Managing Director Pascal Kerneis and Anders Jessen, DG Trade's Deputy Head of Unit, Trade in Services. http://www.corporateeurope.org/docs/email20040325.pdf
5: E-mail (31 October 2003) from ESF Managing Director Pascal Kerneis to Joao Aguiar Machado, DG Trade's Head of Unit, Trade in Services and his Deputy Anders Jessen. http://www.corporateeurope.org/docs/email20031031.pdf6: "Mandelson risks opening up vast "credibility gap" between promises and delivery", press release by the Greens/EFA in the European Parliament, Brussels, 4 October 2004. See the press release on the website of the Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament.