Sunday 27 July 2008

World trade, the French, and New Labour

These days, world trade negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (in Geneva) are under way to see whether the so-call Doha Development Round can lead to a new global agreement or if Doha will ultimately fail. All details of the negotiations are constantly published on the WTO homepage. Prospects are low to mixed.

What interests me is the inner-European personal conflict that has evolved: French president Nicolas Sarkozy and EU-Commissioner Peter Mandelson (Trade) are at loggerheads with each other about "the" European position and are playing a nice little blame game. If we add another figure, Pascal Lamy, French Director-General of the WTO, the whole story become a nice little ménage à trois:

  • Nicolas is the current president of France (in office since last year) and president of the EU Council (since this month). The centre-right politician has won his campaign and started his French presidency with comparatively extreme reformist policies. He is not one of the typical French "Ecole National d'Administration (ENA)"-elites who have captured a large share of top posts in French politics.
  • Pascal is exactly one of these typical ENA-guys. Specialisation in economics. Member of the Socialist Party. Rather straight carreer. In his WTO office for almost three years now. Before he was... EU-Commissioner for Trade. To get into his WTO position, there must have been extensive lobbying by the French president and/or the Prime minister - at the time Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin (also an ENA-guy).
  • Peter is one of those British "New Labour" architects, hence a social democrat with pro-market orientation. His political career was interrupted several time by charges of corruption. He is in office as EU Commissioner since 2004.
So we have these three man: Two social democrats and one centre-right/conservative. Two French and one Brit. On self-made ego-mane double president, the elitist WTO Director General, and one EU-Commissioner with quite some controversies during his career.

And now they are playing the big interests game: French ("European") farmers vs. EU power and world markets vs. global free trade with a piece of the pie for everyone. Yet, negotiations are carried on by individuals. And these three individuals have quite a fascinating mixture of personal, cultural and political similarities and differences with a big potential for conflict besides their political responsibilities. Alpha-males, dependent on each other but nonetheless in the constant thrive to get the maximum for themselves.

Yes, WTO is about trade, global questions, and power plays between powerful blocs. But on the second track it is also the arena for personalities. In the end, there will be winners and losers. On the first track, the winners and losers will be countries and their people. On the second track, it will be high-level political individuals.

Both will influence the course of the upcoming years, for the EU and the rest of the world