Monday, October 04, 2004

Commissioners comment

Peter Mandelson faces questioning from MEPs today, and unsurprisingly seems to have found his toughest challenges coming from the British contingent. While Mandy promises to be a team player, amazingly an interesting point was raised by a UKIP MEP, Nigel Farrage, who has pointed out that being a member of the Privy Council and of the Commission simultaneously could lead to allegations of split allegiance, as commissioners are meant to be working for Europe as a whole, and not their own countries. In practice, of course, sitting on the Privy Council means very little these days, but technically Farrage has identified a problematic issue.

Conflicts of interest are difficult things to define. Although most would agree that the Conservatives' candidate for Mayor of London, Steven Norris was jeopardised by his Chairmanship of Jarvis, which holds Private Finance Initiative contracts for running sections of London's transport system (and which most agree was responsible for the Potter's Bar rail crash, Mandelson's conflict of interest (this time at least) seems less problematic.

Of course, in an ideal world, no politician would hold any posts other than their political one. That was why MPs were given salaries in the first place, and it should apply to other political posts, elected or otherwise, if the public are going to believe that their representatives are truly acting in the public's best interest. Part of the reason former Chancellor of the Exchequer Ken Clarke lost out on the Tory leadership (bar his pro-European views, which don't gel with the membership) was his GBP100,000 p.a. salary on the board of British American Tobacco. That salary is more than double what he earns as an MP, so where do his loyalties lie - to his constituents, or to the cancer-merchants? And where do Mandelson's loyalties lie - to Her Majesty, to Britain, to his best buddy Blair or to the EU?

Meanwhile, outgoing British Commissioner Chris Patten, former Governor of Hong Kong, gives an interesting little interview on where he thinks the EU is heading. Unsurprisingly, he gives few definites, because as yet nothing is certain. Europe remains in the state of flux it has existed in ever since the original six let in new members, and is in desperate need of some kind of clarification. Which is kind of what that whole constitution thing was meant to be about...

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