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Politics & press news – Embassy 19 – October 2009

Europe minister role ‘downgraded’

The position of Europe Minister has been handed to Chris Bryant, in a move that political commentators say downgrades the importance of Europe in Gordon Brown’s government.

Downing Street has confirmed that Mr Bryant will not be attending cabinet – the first time in recent memory that the post of Europe Minister has not been held by
a minister of state.

Baroness Kinnock, who retains her ministerial salary, has been given the Africa, Asia and UN portfolio, which has remained vacant since the unexpected resignation of Lord Malloch Brown in July. Mr Bryant will continue to oversee the Americas and consular affairs.

A source told Embassy a new ministerial appointment to take on Mr Bryant’s existing portfolio or his elevation to minister of state was unlikely due to “cost issues”.

At present there are already the maximum number of ministers paid at the minister of state rate.

The reshuffle, which came shortly after Ireland’s approval of the Lisbon Treaty, will allow Mr Bryant, as a sitting MP, to defend Labour’s policies on the European Union in the House of Commons, which Baroness Kinnock, as a peer, was unable to do.

The possibility of Tony Blair being appointed President of European Council, following the Irish, Polish and Czech ratification, may have influenced the decision, as one former British Ambassador said to Embassy: “Who needs a Europe minister when you have Tony Blair as president?”

However, an Embassy snap poll conducted on the circuit shortly after the referendum showed that Mr Blair does not enjoy overwhelming support among all  European ambassadors, as one said: “Tony Blair is undoubtedly an admirable statesman but not everyone thinks he is a good candidate because a strong president may upset the balance between the European Council, Commission and Parliament.”

Another EU Ambassador questioned whether Britain was best placed to put forward a candidate: “Britain is one of the EU heavyweights, but it is not a member of the European Monetary Union, nor is it a member of the Schengen Area, which are two very important EU groupings.”
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