European Commission President José Manuel Barroso welcomed the arrival of Baroness Ashton, who was nominated on Friday (3 October) to replace Peter Mandelson at the trade portfolio.
Mandelson’s resignation to join the UK government as business secretary came as a big surprise in Brussels on Friday (3 October).
And his replacement by Baroness Ashton of Upholland, who up till now had been the Labour party’s chief in the UK House of Lords, was welcomed by President Barroso.
However, her time as EU trade commissioner may not last for long, as the current team’s mandate will end in October 2009.
Ashton will now have to face questions from members of the European Parliament in a traditional hearing before she can assume her new role.
In a statement, Barroso said he was “very satisfied with the profile of the commissioner,” noting that “she was responsible for the successful passage of the Lisbon Treaty in the House of Lords”.
“She has very solid economic experience,” said Barroso’s spokesperson, Johannes Laitenberger, at the Commission’s standard press briefing on Friday. “She has very solid legal experience, and she has dealt with aspects of trade issues before.”
In fact, Ashton’s work experience has more to do with labour and education issues than trade. “She was previously Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Department for Constitutional Affairs and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, where her responsibilities included the trade implications of legal professions,” noted the Commission in a statement.
Mandelson’s tenure as trade commissioner was marked by the collapse of the so-called Doha Round of global trade talks, which was supposed to offer new market opportunities to developing countries.
And not all in Brussels were disappointed to see him leave. “Commissioner Mandelson, unfortunately, failed to ensure that the EU put development ahead of self-interest in its trade relations with its former colonies,” said Luis Morago, the head of Oxfam’s Brussels office, in a statement.
“While there have been some improvements in the EU position recently, the demands on developing countries are still disproportionate and their potential impact uncertain until further details emerge.”
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