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That close to the job: Baroness Ashton - CC / Flickr
That close to the job: Baroness Ashton - CC / Flickr

All of the analysis of Shriti Vadera’s move to some sort of G20 post has led to questions about what her departure means for Gordon Brown and for government. But what does it mean for the EU? For Vadera was tipped to become the British member of the European Commission this autumn.

I cannot determine how much this decision is Vadera jumping or Brown putting an ally in what he considers to be an important position, but it also seems to show – once more – that Brown does not have his eye on EU business. A decent Commission job is surely a better bet than some undefined position in some vacuous talking shop of twenty countries..?

But I diverge…

All of this seems to make Britain’s nomination to the European Commission rather straightforward: Baroness Ashton, Commissioner for Trade for just under a year since Über-Lord Mandelson’s return to the cabinet is now surely odds on to be put forward for a full five year stint. She’s the most likely candidate because, well, there’s no-one else that could do it and whose nomination would not provoke a by-election.

Word on the street in Brussels is that Ashton is very solid, and good to work with, but is very low profile. This would surely mean that Barroso could get away with allocating a rather minor portfolio to the UK. With France likely to propose Barnier, and Germany to put forward Schäuble (if Black-Yellow wins the election) the UK is going to look rather weak in the Commission in comparison to other larger Member States.

3 Comments

  1. Having heard Ashton speak yesterday I tend to agree with you Aaron… and if I read it all right, if Miliband is not appointed High Rep then she will probably be re-nominated, not a bad thing.

  2. Jon, the ability to do the job well should not be under estimated. The Commissioner knows her brief very well, secures deals, and does not let officials run rings around her. That she is not a raging ego is true, but I’m not sure that is a bad thing. Is it too crazy an idea for HMG to leave someone in post who did the job well?

  3. James Burnside

    I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with your assessment that Baroness Ashton is the most likely British nominee for the next Commission, but I’m going to throw in a couple more points.

    First, best case, the nomination will not be made formally until end October. How long is it since Michael Martin resigned? And there’s still no date for that by-election. So whilst it was when Mandelson needed to be replaced, I think that is no longer a major consideration. If Brown wants to nominate someone from the Commons, he could tough out the calls for a by-election by saying the general election has to come soon enough anyway. (And a few planted stories about how much the MP elected would be able to make in expenses for their few months work would help the case too)

    Second, Barroso is desperate for women (in his Commission;-)), especially from the big countries. The names in the frame from the bigger countries are almost universally male. Ashton would, in those circumstances, get a heavier weight portfolio than her political profile might otherwise suggest. And a year under her belt in the Commission is not a negligible advantage either. How Schultz would play her nomination – as the nominee of the biggest member state with a PES government – will be interesting. (And would S&D find it harder to support the tube PPP architect?)

    Third, as we know, the aim is to nominate all the jobs as a package, if the Irish and Klaus play ball. If Blair is to be president of the European Council, then the UK is unlikely to get a heavyweight portfolio in the Commission. Likewise, in the unlikely scenario of a Brit getting the high rep job, Ashton would be going home anyway.

    Finally, at the risk of reading too much into the entrails, this move may mean that Barroso’s made it clear that the UK won’t get a portfolio to Vadera’s liking. But equally, given its appearance as something of a ‘non-job’, I’m sure it could be quietly given up if Shriti decided that Brussels would be to her tastes after all.

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