Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Consumer Rights and FTAs on the European Agenda

The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, has announced that consumer rights must become central to the economic and social agenda for the EU.

In a letter to colleagues, Barroso stated, "We must treat the internal market and social realities as one ... The citizens must move to the centre of our activities." In an article published today, Anne-France White suggests that this is a notable change from the focus on industry that has previously dominated the commission, as presented by EU executives Gunther Verheugen, Vice-President and European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, and Charlie McCreevy, European Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services.

Some commentators have suggested that Barroso's agenda is linked to his desire to secure a second five year mandate. But it is almost certainly motivated by attempts to revitalise moves towards a European constitution.

It has been predicted that the push will be resisted by some members of the Commission, including Charlie McCreevy and Peter Mandelson, European Commission for Trade.

Mandelson has been in the press recently on the Global Europe Strategy Paper, emphasising trade and the use of bilateral Free Trade agreements (FTAs) with key growing markets. In a speech echoing sentiments of US approaches to "contractual law-making," Mandelson says, "We must keep the WTO as the fundamental platform on which to build global liberalisation. There will be no European retreat from multilateralism. But we should also go beyond the EU's existing bilateral free trade agreements, by setting out the case for new free trade agreements designed to deliver more open markets and fairer trading conditions in new areas of growth, particularly in Asia". In that same speech, Mandelson emphasises the enforcement of intellectual property rights as central to the EU's trade strategy in China.

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