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Monday, 27 October 2008


Jonathan Dimbleby on the "Daily Politics" this morning quoted a former Tory grandee as telling aspiring politicians to avoid invitations to cavort on yachts. What a wise man (they were all men in those days).

The tangled saga of the peer, the oligarch, the banker and the Rt Hon Tory seems set to run and run. I have to say I dislike these kinds of stories. This one, in particular, attempts to tell of some kind of scandal, or even scandals, on the back of tales of the super rich designed, I imagine, to add flavour and spice to what, as far as I can make out, is essentially something of nothing.

Having said that, I do think the Rt Hon Tory George Osborne's judgement was suspect for two things - leaking his purported conversation with the peer (Baron Mandelson of Foy and Hartlepool as he now is) about the alleged shortcomings of our Prime Minister and seeking money from the oligarch, the richest man in Russia, Oleg Deripaska. It's the second of these which is important in that Osborne was apparently looking to if not circumvent, then at least stretch, British law regarding political donations.

We are told that the banker, Nat Rotschild, didn't much like Osborne's behaviour, which he seemed to view as abusing his hospitality. Fair enough if you ask me. Now, just to add another layer of speculation, we learn that certain shadowy EU officials are having a go at Peter Mandelson because they don't seem to approve of his relationship with the Deripaska. (We never said this story was easy).

The "Times" ran an article today quoting the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, saying that Lord Mandelson's actions as Trade Commissioner had all been above board. However, this has not stopped concern being expressed about the impact of Peter Mandelson's refusal to give a full breakdown of his activities, which surfaced in Brussels during a top-level conversation late last week, according to EU sources.

Perhaps this slight disagreement between the PM and Brussels bureaucrats is understandable. What is completely mystifying is that the European Commission has also announced that Lord Mandelson's diary is not a public document but a management tool and is therefore exempt from freedom of information rules. It seems that the EU wants to have it both ways by attacking Mandy than refusing to release something which could have provided evidence to back up their case. The end result is confusion all round, which may have been the desired effect.

It is, however, true that standards of transparency are more exacting in the UK that in the EU. This goes for MEPs as well as Commissioners. The strange behaviour on the part of leading figures in Brussels regarding disclosure of information relating to a Commissioner only goes to underline this unfortunate fact. I believe if the EU is to ever become a serious player it needs to put its own house in order by introducing clear rules of behaviour which are fully open to public scrutiny. Such action should be taken sooner rather than later.

1 comment:

Martin Meenagh said...

I think that part of the problem is that the European Commission is both an executive and a civil service body, and one that has the power to issue formal decisions to named individuals and companies. That tends to breed a certain amount of secret hustling, especially since the Commission is also dealing with a Council that tends to meet in secret.

You must see that some of this comes from the flaws in the Parliament. To be fair to you, you've identified one key one--the silly shuttling back and forth between strasbourg, Brussels, and I assume, occasionally Luxembourg.

But another is the Parliament's electoral systems. No secure personal constituencies mean dependence on party lists, which means that national party interests trump your independence in the final analysis.

The European Parliament spends it time thus floating around like the continental congress or the Hapsburg diet, or indulging itself.

Is there nothing you'd want? A smooth and readily available way to bring enforecement actions against states not implementing directives? Individual veto of commissioners? Criminal or civil subpoenas?

There must be something....