Mandelson calls for EU reform, UK referendum

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Former EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson issued a ‘wake-up call’ to pro-Europeans, demanded a referendum on the future of the UK in Europe, and claimed the EU’s institutions need to be reformed.

In a key speech last Friday (4 May), Mandelson, who quit his Commission portfolio in 2008 to serve the last months of Gordon Brown’s Labour premiership, claimed that Europe was moving inexorably towards a more political union to reflect the fiscal convergence arising from the eurozone crisis.

“The governance of the EU is going to need to change,” Mandelson said in a speech in Oxford, prescribing a series of EU institutional reforms which he claimed had emerged following talks with “a lot of heads of government, ministers, business CEOs and leading academics”.

Smaller Commission, new ‘executive committee of the EU’

These suggestions included shrinking the current Commission, merging its functions with the Council “to form a full governing board, which includes every member state”, and forming a “smaller EU executive committee of the EU, rather on the model of the European Central Bank”.

He claimed he was echoing the sentiments of former UK prime minister – and noted eurosceptic – Margaret Thatcher, in asserting that “for Britain, the facts of globalised life are European”.

Two European strategies were gaining traction in the UK: one fiercely eurosceptic, which wants the country to leave the EU completely; the other aiming to keep Britain within Europe, but at an arm’s length, he said.

He believed the government of David Cameron favours the latter strategy, which Mandelson likened to keeping the UK in Europe as a “Hong Kong to Europe’s China, or a Canada to Europe’s United States”.

Euro likely to emerge stronger from the crisis

Mandelson claimed both these strategies will have the same effect, and see the country frozen from an increasingly united European project caucusing around the single market to the detriment of the UK.

He gave a staunch defence for the single currency – blaming the structure of the currency rather than the idea of it for its current woes – and claimed it is likely to emerge stronger from the crisis.

Mandelson called for a referendum in the future of the UK’s position in Europe, but said this should be conducted in a way that addressed the full implications for the UK’s future, but he acknowledged his views were shared by few of his compatriots.

He described his intervention as a “wake up call” to a generation of business leaders and politicians.

“The British public needs to engage with what is at stake. The European mandate that the [Edward] Heath government secured in the 1970s belongs to another time and another generation,” Mandelson said.

Meanwhile Mandelson's Labour party won victory over its Conservative and Liberal Democrat counterparts in local elections held in the UK last Thursday (3 May). The coalition partners lost control of numerous local councils – including cities such as Birmingham and Southampton – as unpopular austerity policies continue to bite, and a double-dip recession holds sway.

Labour veteran Ken Livingstone failed, however, in his bid to unseat the charismatic Conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

Peter Mandelson is a British Labour Party politician , who served in a number of cabinet positions under both Tony Blair – from whose government he twice resigned – and Gordon Brown. After his second resignation, he served as the European Commissioner for Trade from 2004 to 2008. He rejoined the government sitting in the House of Lords  on 13 October 2008, until Labour was replaced by a new coalition government in May, 2010. He is currently president of the left-leaning think-tank, Policy Network.

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