Peter Mandelson argued passionately for greater British engagement in Europe at a debate last Thursday on the implications of further Eurozone integration for the UK. He criticised David Cameron for threatening to veto the upcoming EU budget, which he said amounted to saying the UK’s opening position will be its final position, thus “leaving no scope for negotiation.” With vital British interests at stake, particularly regarding the planned Eurozone banking union, Mandelson argued that it was crucial for the UK to shape legislation on financial services as much as possible. He therefore stressed that “rigid positions and veto threats won’t help to ingratiate ourselves, negotiate effectively and protect British interests.”
On the future governance of the Eurozone, the former Trade Commissioner said the UK needs to ensure that we continue to promote our interests in the single market. He suggested that there is currently a risk of a “serious breach” in the UK’s relations with the EU institutions and member states which could be difficult to reverse.
He also said that the Tories were creating expectations that could not be fulfilled. For example, when Theresa May announced a likely opt-out from pre-Lisbon EU police and justice cooperation measures, she was placating backbench Tories and eurosceptics by giving the impression of UK disengagement from the EU. Yet, Mandelson emphasised, if the UK is to truly embark on such a process of disengagement, this should be done in a pragmatic, painless way. Instead, the government’s current approach is likely to lead to a rupture with EU partners which in the long-term will severely damage our national interests. Liberal Democrat MEP
Andrew Duff commented that further UK opt-outs risked fracturing the cohesion and legal integrity of the EU. If the UK is set on disengagement, he said, he believed the cleanest way to proceed would be to craft a new category of associate membership. This would permit the option of a “long stay parking place” before at some stage reconsidering further integration, which would be a credible and democratically acceptable option for the public.
Duff then described how the current political debate in France is crucial to the eventual outcome of the Eurozone crisis. Germany does not believe France will cede enough sovereignty for a proper fiscal union, yet this is what is necessary if the crisis is to be truly resolved. He said all EU member states need to pitch in to persuade France to push ahead, especially the Brits, who could potentially play a critically important role but are currently largely absent from the debate.
Peter Mandelson criticised at length the UK government’s current approach to the Eurozone crisis. He described how the coalition’s official position is to fully support the efforts to put in place a fiscal and political union in the Eurozone, so long as the UK is not part of it and is not negatively affected. However, he deplored the fact that in reality this has tended not to be the case.
He used the analogy of a fire engine racing to put out a fire, but instead of letting it through the UK has repeatedly blocked it and is asking all sorts of questions over the route it is taking. Meanwhile, the fire just keeps raging which negatively affects us all. He described the reaction of our European partners as one of “part resignation and part outrage,” and said many are now running out of patience with what they perceive as an intentional sabotaging of efforts to resolve the crisis. Andrew Duff concurred, saying that following Cameron’s veto last December “tolerance for red lines imposed from London has been exhausted.”
Mandelson concluded that there is a refusal among the Tories to come to terms with what’s currently at stake for Britain. Due to pressure from Tory backbenchers and a fear of UKIP, the Tory leadership feels that it must constantly play the anti-Europe card and thus refuses to play a constructive role in the EU. Commission President Barroso has allegedly claimed that even China has been of more use in resolving the current situation than the Brits. However, ultimately it is the British citizens who pay the price for blocking the resolution of the Eurozone crisis, as vital national economic interests are being put at risk.