Britain has lost its ability to influence the EU effectively according to former Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson.
Mandelson – a former minister under UK Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – spoke to EurActiv in Brussels today in a wide-ranging interview covering the UK/EU relationship.
EU countries need to respond to the crisis with policies agreed at EU level, Mandelson said, adding that Britain’s problem in this respect “is that it has become less attractive and respectable for member states to align with Britain even when what Britain is saying is true and the policies we are advocating are right.”
“When I was a Commissioner, ten years ago, there is a whole group of member states who wanted to be in Britain’s camp, but that camp has emptied out in recent years,” he added.
“It is to the detriment of Britain and EU as whole.”
Although the Commission has “some of the best of British in their ranks”, according to the former Trade Commissioner, “in the future they are likely to dry up if we don’t take more seriously the need in the future to encourage British recruitment at the senior level in Brussels.”
Regret for migration policies
During the interview Mandelson acknowledged some regret for the UK Labour government’s decision to allow unfettered migration from Poland from 2005 onwards, while other member states retained barriers to migration at that time.
The UK had been “insufficiently conscious of the impact migration would have on some of our public services and local communities,” given the changed economic circumstances, Mandelson said.
But he added that “it would have been hypocritical if – having wanted them to come into the EU – we wanted to deprive their citizens of the principle of free movement of people,” referring to the UK’s forceful endorsement of EU enlargement.
The UK shared many problems with France at the moment, such as strong anti-European sentiment, Mandelson said, “but it doesn’t mean the French government will ally with Britain to adopt solutions.”
“I’d apply that to the EU as a whole[… ]No member state alone can prepare a solution without the EU as a whole acting in a united way,” he said.
Centre-left must ‘get real’
Mandelson said that centre-left parties across Europe, including France, “have got to get real”.
“Condemning others views is backward looking unless we are able to present a viable alternative,” he explained.
Mandelson described the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) as “not only fighting to take Britain out of Europe, it is also fighting to take Cameron out from the leadership of the Conservative party.”
Britain’s national interest is becoming “almost incidental” to a fight for ideological supremacy on the right wing, he said.
He said this left the centre-left with “an even greater responsibility to make sure that sanity prevails, to prevent Britain committing the self-destruction that would be involved in our exiting the EU.”
Mandelson also gave a strong endorsement of the leadership of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
He said he had been impressed by Juncker’s refusal to take a business-as-usual approach, and also by his insistence to “do less better and concentrate on doing big things.”
“I welcome that. I believe he is re-instilling a sense of purpose and discipline in the Commission which is badly needed and which I hope he will sustain over the next five years,” Mandelson said.
To read the full interview, please click here.