David Cameron
Despite his apparent fondness for cafeterias, David Cameron cannot adopt a 'pick-and-choose' approach to Europe, according to Peter Mandelson [Reuters].

Peter Mandelson has condemned the prime minister for treating the European Union like a "cafeteria" in which Britain can pick and choose the things it likes.

Former New Labour minister and Brussels trade commissioner Mandelson was reacting to David Cameron's pledge to hold an in/out referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.

"You cannot treat the EU like a cafeteria at which you arrive with your tray and leave with what you want," Mandelson told the BBC.

His words were echoed by French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, who said: "No to Europe รก la carte."

In a speech in central London, Cameron pledged to hold a referendum on EU membership in 2017 should the Conservatives win the 2015 election. In his 35-minute speech, he pledged to seek a new settlement on taking back powers from Brussels.

Peter Mandelson
Peter Mandelson

Mandelson called for Britain to deepen ties, not loosen them.

"What David Cameron should be seeking is a new settlement in the EU and for the EU, which we can sort out with our partners. But he is seeking an ultimatum with a deadline - it would have very serious negative consequences for our country.

"We have existing legislation providing for a referendum if there's a new treaty which alters the balance of our relationship with the EU and we should rely on that legislation. What the government should be [working on is the] preservation and expansion of influence in order to get the sort of European Union we want."

Mandelson was a trade commissioner in Brussels between 2004 and 2008. He also supported Britain's adoption of the euro when New Labour was in power.

He said the government should focus on strengthening the EU's "competitiveness, accountability, political weight of EU in the world".

Cameron was pandering to Eurosceptic Tory MPs by offering a referendum on Britain's membership in 2017, he added.

Click here to find out which Tory MPs pushed Cameron into an in/out referendum - against his wishes.

"He's playing to the anti-EU members of his own party," said Mandelson.

"Of course there are question and improvements but let's set about building the alliance and shared agenda with our partners, not approaching this as if we can create a blank sheet of paper and expect our partners to deliver a special status for Britain in the EU. It's not going to happen.

"You cannot treat the EU like a cafeteria at which you arrive with your tray and leave with what you want."

He rejected claims that Britain's trade would not be harmed by drawing back from the European Union because trade with the Bric (Brazil, Russia, India, China) would fill the gap.

"People say why bother with Europe, our trade with those [Bric] countries is a small fraction of the trade with Europe. Those countries have great potential but they will lag behind for many years to come. So to recast ourselves into an offshore island off EU is in my view a huge mistake."