Campaigners claimed European trade policy was particularly vulnerable to corporate influence, and that Mr Mandelson had an established reputation for being close to business.

On his first day, the new Commissioner for Trade had chosen to address a meeting of business lobby groups organised by the Foreign Policy Centre to promote trade liberalisation, confirming their fears.

Staged by the World Development Movement (WDM), Friends of the Earth (FoE) Europe and Dutch organisation the Corporate Europe Observatory, a giant puppet of Mr Mandelson was placed outside his office and operated by a so-called “European Corporate Lobbyist”.

Over 100 civil society groups from around Europe signed a letter to incoming President Jose Manuel Barroso, demanding he curbed the excessive influence of corporate lobby groups over EU policy making and calling for greater transparency within the trade negotiating process.

“Peter Mandelson has an established reputation as an arch free trader and someone with an intimate relationship with the business community,” Dave Timms of the WDM stated. “We need a radical rethink of EU policy away from the demand of big business and a transformation of the relationship between the Commission and corporate lobby groups.”

Various NGOs around the world have been calling for a switch to fair trade over free trade, which has negative implications both for developing countries and the world’s environment (see related story).

Trade campaigner for FoE, Alexandra Wandel said that Mr Mandelson’s stance on trade was vital as he would now be playing a crucial role in on-going international negotiations.

“It is essential that his role is not tainted by connections with big business, and that the whole process of trade policy within Europe is made more transparent and accountable,” she said.

By Jane Kettle

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