MEPs approve new EU Trade Commisssioner

Europe's new Trade Commissioner, Cathy Ashton, arrived in Geneva tonight for talks with the head of the World Trade Organisation, Pascal Lamy.

She left Strasbourg for Switzerland as soon as her appointment to replace Peter Mandelson was approved in a 538-40 vote of MEPs meeting in Strasbourg.

Sixty-three MEPs abstained - including the British Conservatives.

"Our group felt that, although Baroness Ashton is competent politically, she lacks the technical knowledge of the Commission trade dossier," explained a spokesman.

"She will acquire that in time, and it was decided not to vote against her, but to abstain."

Tory leader in the European Parliament Philip Bushill-Matthews acknowledged that she had performed "positively" at her confirmation hearing in front of MEPs earlier this week, and promised that the Tories would work with the Baroness "in an effort to deliver Britain's interests".

He added: "There is a great deal of important work to be done, and we will work with the new Commissioner towards the objective of promoting more open trade across the world."

Elsewhere her confirmation was welcomed as a boost for efforts to reach a global trade deal, which failed after intense talks in Geneva last July.

At the confirmation hearing on Monday Baroness Ashton vowed to keep the seven-year Doha Round of the world trade talks alive in her role as negotiator on behalf of the 27 EU countries.

She also said her appointment would bring a change of style.

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