Channel 4's documentary Dispatches yesterday revealed a document showing that former EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson (2004-2008) personally signed the decision to lift import tariffs for Rusal, the aluminum giant owned by Lord Mandelson's close friend Oleg Deripaska.
Lord Mandelson's close links to Deripaska have attracted criticism before, but the document, dated December 20th 2005, appears to show a serious conflict of interest. German MEP Dr Ingeborg Graessle described Lord Mandelson's behaviour as "a completely improper doing" and argued that "it is a conflict of interest". "For me it is a conflict of interest, when you have a close friend who profits from your decision," Graessle told The Independent.
In response, Lord Mandelson's spokesperson argued that EU decision-making is "based on a college system where decisions are taken by 27 commissioners. The idea that one individual can influence the process is laughable". This comment ignores that the Trade Commissioner position is a hugely powerful one and that Mandelson did hold very substantial powers over trade policy decisions. The College of Commissioners often just rubber-stamps what is proposed by the Trade Commissioner.
The spokesperson also stated that EU commissioners are not subject to any code of conduct for these type of situations. This is correct and underlines the importance of tightening the code of conduct for Commissioners. Commission President Barroso has announced a review of the current code. The ALTER-EU coalition has written to Barroso with recommendations for such a review.
MEP Graessle told UK newspapers that she is going to "make Lord Mandelson's involvement with Mr Deripaska a centrepiece" in her efforts to promote a code of conduct that can prevent conflicts of interest.