Mandelson denies EU rumours

Peter Mandelson has denied suggestions that he had been approached about the possibility of becoming a European commissioner.

Speculation that the former cabinet minister would be appointed to the vacant post were fuelled by claims that Scottish secretary Helen Liddell, tipped for the EU job, was about to be named governor-general of Australia.

Hartlepool MP Mr Mandelson declared that he was “very happy” representing his constituency and denied ambitions to go to Brussels.

When asked about whether he had been approached to be a commissioner, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, “Nope. I haven’t talked to anyone”.

“I am very happy in British politics and very committed to representing my constituents in Hartlepool,” he added.

Rumours have been circulating this week that the possible appointment of Mr Mandelson as a European commissioner has caused tensions within the cabinet.

Mr Mandelson is believed to be the prime minister’s choice to replace Neil Kinnock as the UK’s commissioner in the autumn. However, senior ministers including Gordon Brown, Jack Straw and John Prescott are reported to be conducting a behind the scenes effort to stop the candidacy.

Jack Straw is thought to be promoting defence secretary Geoff Hoon for the role, while other ministers, including the deputy prime minister and the chancellor, are thought to favour Mr Cook.

Mr Mandelson has been forced to resign from government twice and many view him as a potential loose canon if sent to Europe. Meanwhile, the EU commissioner’s role would enable the government to move controversial defence secretary Geoff Hoon out of the cabinet following widespread public criticism.

Tony Blair is understood to believe that Mandelson, who is strongly pro-European, has the right credentials for Brussels and Mr Mandelson is rumoured to have enlisted the support of sympathetic ministers for his cause. However, the prime minister is also reported to be considering former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown for the post.

On Tuesday, Downing Street denied that a decision has been taken on the Brussels posting.

“We are not at the point of decision,” a spokesman said.

A decision about the UK’s appointment to the 25-strong EU commission is not expected until the summer. Under reforms to the commission, all countries will have one instead of two commissioners when the EU expands from 15 to 25 members later this year.

The European commissioner position carries a salary of £163,453 plus a range of perks.