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This Sunday, March 25, marks 50 years since the Treaty of Rome founded the European Union.

Will it last another 50 years?

Peter Mandelson, the EU Commissioner for Trade, answered FT readers’ questions in a live online session at 11am (GMT) on Friday, March 23.

The Q&A session has ended. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Tom Thackray, London: The poll this week showing that nearly half of EU citizens hold that their country would be better off had they not joined the bloc must make uncomfortable reading for an EU Commissioner. Whose responsibility is it to improve this public perception and how should this be done?

Peter Mandelson: That’s not my reading of the poll. People feel their lives have got worse but they do not identify the EU as the cause of that.

Gabrial Szucs, Budapest, Hungary: I wonder if you could talk to me about what you think about the European welfare states. Should not Europe (particulary Germany and France) give up affluent society in the interest of bigger competitiveness?

Peter Mandelson: I disagree. Europe’s social provision is important but our policies and structures need to be targetted and affordable. They should be reformed not scrapped.

Thiago Garone, Brazil: Mr Mandelson, What do you think the EU must do, in order to regain the confidence of its citizens, when it comes to the challenges and opportunities that this globalized world offers? Which path do you think the EU must take? more liberalization or more protection, especially against the emerging asian giants?

Peter Mandelson: Europe needs to remain open if it wants others to open up further. As I have explained in the pamphlet that I published yesterday I am neither a protectionist or a hyperglobalist - to see what the alternative is you can download my pamphlet here.

Arash Nazhad, Austin, Texas: Of course every country has its own set of interest but in an organization such as the EU you encompass such a wide sphere of interest. Recently the EU Constitution was rejected. How do you plan to convince European citizens and nations that further convergence in Europe is in their best however varying interest? How does the EU plan to balance these varying interests?

Peter Mandelson: The EU is diverse in its membership but united in its purpose and coordinated effectively by its rules and institutions. No such organisation exists anywhere else in the world. Through its economic integration the EU has put an end to conflict on the continent and created huge prosperity and economic opportunity. We now have to use our combined strength to face up to global challenges and partner other continental powers in the next fifty years of the Unions existence.

James Sloan, London: Whilst EU trade legislation is designed to equalise the trading basis across member states in the expectation of making international markets more efficient, the often cited distortionary effects of CAP and other subsidies appear to really limit the potential gains. What needs to be done to reconcile this in the future? Many thanks.

Peter Mandelson: EU trade policy is benefitting from the latest 2003 reform of the CAP. As a result we are able to decouple support from prices and production and to offer a 70% reduction of trade distorting farm support and complete elimination of export subsidies by 2010-2013 if others do the same in the current trade talks - which would be the biggest liberalisation of farm trade in history. I think this is pretty good going by Europe and I wish it was being matched throughtout the developed world.

Motoko Kitade, London: I wonder how those third countries from which the Member States authorize imports of fresh meats, meat preparations and meat products were primarily chosen when lists of third countries thereof were drawn up. I heard they chose those who raised hands up. Is that true? It is quite hard for following countries to get authorised by Commission to be listed even though the level of hygiene of that country is higher than EC expects. It seems not fair. What do you think?

Peter Mandelson: I think the EU is right to maintain safety standards for food imports but they should be balanced and proportionate and not used to exlude food for protectionist reasons. We will always satisfy ourselves and our trading partners that this is the case. And we will continue to help developing countries create the capacity to meet those standards.

Yuko Yoshimura, London: How do you think the UK’s position in the EU will change post-Blair and how will this affect the debate on the EU Constitution?

Peter Mandelson:I do not think the policy towards the EU will change post Blair. It is in Britain’s interests to play a full and influential role in Europe - our European partners are our chief political and economic partners and whoever suceeds Blair is bound to recognise this.

Roland Moore, London: Since more and more things become ‘commoditised’, it is clear that the EU has an extremely important role in pushing one set of trade rules for all its Members. What more can the EU do to ensure that poorer countries outside the Union do not suffer unfavourably in terms of not getting the right prices for their what they produce and have more freedom in what they can produce? Could one approach be to encourage poorer countries in the South to trade with each other more?

Peter Mandelson: We can help by ceasing to subsidise our own agricultural exports (as getting others to do the same, as with cotton), by supporting farmers in a way that does not distort trade - EU farm reform is moving us towards both of these things. We can also help african, caribbean and pacific farmers to integrate their economies regionally, diversify and thereby boost south south trade - this is one of the things our new Econo;ic Partnership Agreements aim to do. The EU offers all least developed countries duty free, quota free access to our markets and 97% of African caribbean and pacific exports enter the EU duty free. We are working hard to ensure that the rest of the developed world offers the same.

Michael Clark, Birmingham: I submit that the EU has become a vast monster that is outdated and does not have the ability to achieve radical reform. History is against it. It will break up first on the single currency then politically. It should have kept to being a trading organisation instead of trying to become a revival of the Roman Empire.

Peter Mandelson: Far from being outdated the the EU has more relevance in the 21st century as a continental-sized power than it has ever had before. In the last fifty years Europe has been good at concentrating on European needs - creating peace and stability after centuries of conflict, reuniting east and west and creating a vast single market to support business. For the next fifty years Europe has to focus on global challenegs, competing in the global economy, global warming and energy security, global povery. We will do this best by leveraging our collective strength through the EU.

Jan Petranek, Prague: Why not to dissolve gangantuas euro-parliament and set instead senat with 3 or 4 senators from every EU country? Others simplifying steps would do better too, and above all simple set of principles in Constitution. Huge bureaucracy will kill everything - or not?

Peter Mandelson: I do not agree that we have a large bureaucracy in Brussels. In fact the Commission employs fewer people to operate on behalf of 27 member states than the workforce of Britain’s BBC. As for the European Parliament, no one would accept retreating from a directly elected chamber, although I have always thought that strengthening ties with national parliaments is essential.

Thomas Lefebvre, Belfast: Dear Mr Mandelson,1) Given your current disastrous relationship with President Chirac, which French Presidential candidate seems the closest to your current positions? 2) What would you like to hear from the French presidential candidate regarding the next Doha round?3) What is your strategy to improve your relationship with the French?4) A few weeks ago, George Parker on the FT blog argued that the British had won the European construction. Do you agree with that statement?5) Euroscepticism is growing all over the EU, any thoughts on that? 6) Should the British be given the right of voting on a referendum on the next EU treaty? Many thanks.

Peter Mandelson: As it happens I am in closer contact with the French government than any other in the world trade talks. As I have said candidly to them, I think they are in danger of getting their priorities wrong by being defensive on agriculture. I certainly am not trying to sell them out in the agriculture negotiations: but the EU’s offer needs to be strong if we are going to realise our aims in other parts of the negotiation.

Joo Paulo Simes, Brazil: What do you think should be Europes headline goal in terms of international relations and foreign policy? To become a superpower, or to continue along the path of civi power?What are the main challenges for Europes security and defense policy? To continue on the way towards multinational forces or to shift to the creation of a truly european army?

Peter Mandelson: The EU is a civil not a military organisation but it has a major interest in ending regional conflicts in its neighbourhood whether in the Balkans or Africa. Most EU-supported militarily interventions, are in fact in Africa. The EU needs to increase its capaicty to intervene, backing soft power with hard. But not all agree with this in europe, hence the slowness of development in this direction.

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