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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 March 2007, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
European trade
On Sunday Sunday 25 March, Andrew Marr interviewed Peter Mandelson - EU Trade Commissioner

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Peter Mandelson
Peter Mandelson - EU Trade Commissioner

ANDREW MARR: Peter Mandelson, welcome.

PETER MANDELSON: Good morning.

ANDREW MARR: Why do you think it is that fifty years on the EU hasn't really got to the hearts of the British people, people regard it with actually greater scepticism than they did even ten years ago?

PETER MANDELSON: Well it's ironic of course because Britain has never had more influence in Europe than it has now. And to be frank Europe has never provided such a, an acceptable home in direction and set of polices for Britain as it does now under the leadership of Jose Manuel Barroso.

But I think the, there are two factors. First of all I think people take for granted the existence of Europe, how it enables us to safeguard our interests and project our values in the world. They take for granted simple everyday things like the fact that as a result of the work of the European Commission we have cheaper airfares, we have lower mobile phone costs. But also there are not enough people making the case.

Even in Britain now with a Labour government which is strongly pro European how often do you hear ministers, apart from the prime minister making the case for Europe and explaining what the purpose of Europe is in the twenty first century? ANDREW MARR: So you're disappointed with your former colleagues?

PETER MANDELSON: Slightly I am. But you know I think that rather than sort of look backwards, we need to look forwards in Europe. I mean if you look at the last fifty years Europe has been quite good at concentrating on Europe, good at bringing peace and stability to a very strife torn continent, very good at reuniting Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

ANDREW MARR: As you know some people would say that was the Americans, that was the American Army that did that ...

PETER MANDELSON: I'm not saying that we, I'm not saying that we in Europe did it by ourselves. But the incentive to join the European Union was a very powerful one for people living in Central and Eastern Europe.

But what we've also done is to create you know the single market. It is the largest economic space and the most integrated platform for business growth of anywhere in the world. But that isn't good enough. We've now got to look to the future. And the future holds global challenges rather than European ones.

And I think the rationale for the European Union in the twenty first century is to enable us to shape and manage globalisation in the interests of all, using our combined strength as a union of twenty seven countries in order to do so.

ANDREW MARR: Looking at today's event this Berlin Declaration, is this a proto constitution as Nigel Farage was saying? Is this something that will develop into a constitution?

PETER MANDELSON: Well it's not, no. I mean it is a declaration about Europe's future and the challenges that we face, whether they be about the global economy and our need to boost competitiveness and keep our markets open, or about global warming and the need to reduce our carbon emissions, or about global poverty and the need for Europe to lead the world in development strategies but, but I think ..

ANDREW MARR: Do you, do you think the constitution is off the agenda?

PETER MANDELSON: Well let me make the point. If we're going to do all these things more effectively especially with a Europe of now twenty seven, not the fifteen that we once were or even twelve, we need a more effective and more efficient rule book with which to do so.

Now I don't think that requires an elaborate and grandiose constitution to revise our rule book and to enable us to take our decisions more effectively.

I do think it requires institutional change and I think that Chancellor Merkel of Germany is right to be giving that leadership. But I don't think we can simply reheat the constitutional treaty of the past that was rejected in France and Netherlands. We've got rethink it and re-present to the public a case for making these rule changes in the future.

ANDREW MARR: But do you accept that if you do make that case there has to be a referendum, that people now expect that and rightly so?

PETER MANDELSON: I suspect that the changes that will be proposed, and I hope they will be, will be rather fewer, with fewer constitutional implications ..

ANDREW MARR: So there doesn't have to be a referendum?

PETER MANDELSON: .. than, than the single market that was created in the eighties and didn't have a referendum. The Maastricht Treaty that didn't have a referendum provided by the then Conservative government. So I think it depends on what is being proposed as to whether we think it crosses the threshold for a referendum.

ANDREW MARR: You were a great enthusiast for the Euro and in particular Britain's membership of the Euro.

PETER MANDELSON: Yeah.

ANDREW MARR: Looking back you were wrong about that weren't you?

PETER MANDELSON: No I don't think I was wrong although I think that it is the case that there was never the sort of clinching argument or the sort of clinching moment when you could have put the case to the British people and won that case in a referendum.

So I accept that. Although I also think that the government at the time didn't do enough to create that moment or to create the conditions in which you might make a favourable recommendation.

I think the problem now is not that we are you know losing out economically as a country. We are obviously doing rather well, not least as a result of the policies and management of this government. But I think the problem is this Andrew, that our success depends to an extent on the success of the European economy as a whole. I think that we need to, and could put more into that economy and its decision making and its policy direction by being in the Euro zone rather than outside it.

ANDREW MARR: Okay. A lot in the papers this morning again about the Brown coronation or the Brown contest or whatever it's going to be. Do you think it would be better for the Labour Party to see somebody serious, somebody mainstream taking on the Chancellor and having a proper contest?

PETER MANDELSON: Well I think that's obvious. I mean look, I, I know that some of Gordon's supporters say that a contest would be divisive and not what we need, you know is to be disciplined and united and then we will win. Election contests in themselves are not necessarily divisive.

It depends on how they are conducted. We've always had contested leadership elections in the Labour Party and we've come out stronger, not weaker as a result. But I think if you want to look at a recent example you know of the, of the risk that we would take if we didn't have a contest is, is the example of Michael Howard.

He was crowned leader of the Conservative Party. How did the public react? With an indifferent shrug. David Cameron in contrast came from nowhere in a contest, set out his stall, made his pitch and to a degree captured the public's imagination. Now I think that the next leader of the Labour Party has to do the same. And he or she cannot do that without a contest.

ANDREW MARR: And if that's, if that's the case it has to be somebody of substance, would you like to see David Miliband or somebody like that standing?

PETER MANDELSON: Well excuse me if I do not get involved with personalities. You know in the last leadership contest ..

ANDREW MARR: Somebody of his heft. Somebody of his seniority.

PETER MANDELSON: In the last leadership contest you know I caught enough grape shot when Tony Blair was elected leader to discourage me from putting my head above the parapet and offering opinions now. What I do think is this. That I mean in a sense I come from the generation of, of Blair and Brown and even Jack Straw, of you know of the eighties and the nineties.

Now what I would like to see is not our generation determining this, I would like to see the new generation of younger Labour MPs deciding for themselves who they want to see leading the Labour Party and for them to take you know be on the front foot. And what sort of Labour Party and what sort of, so what sort of direction it should take. Look just think, just ..

ANDREW MARR: I think, I think I can decode that, I think I can understand that but ..

PETER MANDELSON: Well don't be, don't be too active in decoding it. But let me just make, make this point Andrew. The Party has won three tremendous election victories as New Labour. Tony Blair you know the arch New Labourite is stepping down.

I think what the public are, are wondering about is what in the absence of Tony Blair the Labour Party is going to stand for. And whether as he leaves you know the stage, the Labour Party is going to go, is going to throw away the New Labour handbook as he does so. So I think that the public are ..

ANDREW MARR: And ...

PETER MANDELSON: .. a bit uncertain about where the Labour Party is going. They're uncertain about what the Labour Party is going to stand for and what it is going to do.

And I think what the Labour Party needs very urgently to do in the course of this election is to clear up that uncertainty and make clear that we're not going to throw away the New Labour handbook but we are going to take New Labour forward. We're going to equip it now you know for the next decade just as we successfully implemented its ideas and its policies in the last ten years.

ANDREW MARR: If what you say is true they must be uncertain about Gordon Brown. What is the problem with Gordon Brown?

PETER MANDELSON: I don't think there's any innate problem with Gordon Brown except that people do not know enough what he stands for and what he's going to do, but especially how he's going to do it. Is he going to do it in a, a New Labour way that puts the public first and addresses the public's needs, the public's aspirations and hopes or is he going to be a more Labour Party animal in his leadership of the Labour Party should he be elected. And I think that what he needs to do is to clear up this uncertainty. And the only way he can do that is by setting out his stall and giving the public a sense of ownership ..

ANDREW MARR: So you're uneasy about it.

PETER MANDELSON: .. of this succession.

ANDREW MARR: Let me ..

PETER MANDELSON: No, no, no, excuse me ..

ANDREW MARR: Well it sounds ..

PETER MANDELSON: No, no hold on a moment. I didn't say I was uneasy about him. I know him pretty well. I've worked with him for over twenty years. What I am saying is that the public have uncertainties and those uncertainties need to be cleared up.

ANDREW MARR: All right. Yes or no, are you going to come back to domestic politics after the European Commission?

PETER MANDELSON: Well I'm certainly going to come back to Britain and find something to do when I leave the European Commission after five years, but what that is I do not know.

In the mean time I've got a, a rather difficult World Trade Round to help resolve and that's my, that's my priority, my day job.

ANDREW MARR: All right. Peter Mandelson thank you very much indeed.

INTERVIEW ENDS


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy


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