A Conservative-led Britain would be marginalised and powerless in Brussels unless David Cameron swallows his pride and rejoins the European political mainstream, a senior EU politician warned yesterday.
Antonio Lopez-Isturiz, Secretary General of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), predicted that Mr Cameron would be forced to reverse his decision to pull the Tories out of Europe's largest and most influential political "family".
"They have no influence and they have nothing to say within the EU institutions right now. Being left out of the main political institutions in the EU is a mistake," he said. "I believe that David Cameron will make the pragmatic choice after the elections to come back. This is a crucial moment for him."
Mr Lopez-Isturiz also warned that the ragtag Eurosceptic and extreme nationalist group that the Conservatives joined after the European Parliament elections last June was already in danger of falling apart.
Nine Czech members, the third-largest national group in the "European Conservative and Reform" party (ECR), were already considering returning to the EPP, he said. "That's why I think David will make the decision [to come back to us]. But there will be no negotiations. If the [Tories] come back, it will be under [our] terms," he added.
The EPP leader's remarks are the most outspoken public comments so far on an issue that is privately worrying all EU capitals. How, post 6 May, would a Conservative-run Britain operate within the European institutions which a large majority of the party's election candidates profess to despise?
Some European politicians believe pragmatism will prevail. The Conservatives, they say, will prove to be less Europhobic in office than they were in opposition. Others are worried that a Cameron government would feel obliged to adopt an obstructive approach that would hamper efforts to help Europe recover from recession.
The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said last week that he had been warned by the Conservative foreign minister William Hague that a Tory government would adopt a policy of doing "not very much at all" in the EU.
Mr Cameron fulfilled a promise given during his leadership election campaign when he pulled his party out of the nominally federalist EPP last summer. The EPP is not only the largest single group in the European Parliament, it is an alliance of European centre-right parties, which control the governments of 13 out of 27 EU countries, including Germany, France and Italy.
EPP leaders, including President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel, meet before each European summit to coordinate policy. They were furious when Mr Cameron left the group and have pressured him to rejoin. Ms Merkel did not meet him during her last visit to London.
Mr Lopez-Isturiz said Mr Cameron could look forward to more cold-shoulder treatment if he declined to rejoin the EPP. "You might have influence as Prime Minister in the European Council. But then you will be confronted with a no vote on many of your initiatives from a European Parliament that you do not control and [where] you don't have any influence at all," he said. Since the approval of the Lisbon Treaty, the Parliament has a lot more power to decide on EU policy, he pointed out.
The Conservatives, together with seven other Eurosceptic parties, are now part of the ECR, one of the smallest and most controversial groups in the European Parliament. Its right-wing leader, Michal Kaminski from Poland's Law and Justice Party, has repeatedly been accused of homophobia and supporting anti-semitic causes. Its single Latvian member has been blasted for attending commemorations for his country's SS volunteers.
Mr Lopez-Isturiz, who is also a Spanish MEP, said that the fate of the ECR group was hanging in the balance. Some of its members, such as the Czech ODS party, were poised to leave. Others, such as Hungary's MDF, have failed to gain any seats during the weekend's national elections. "The ECR is a very exotic grouping, I don't have the feeling it will survive long ... The British Conservatives used to be critical [of the EU] but not anti-European as many of these parties are."
Highlights of the day
Bad sports of the day
A deficit in the polls and three attempts to overthrow their leader were put aside by Labour supporters who came out in force for the big manifesto launch. They cheered Gordon Brown's every word and took great delight in booing when the BBC's Nick Robinson dared to ask a question. The People's Republic has nothing on New (or should that be Old) Labour.
Gaffe of the day
The Liberal Democrats' loudmouth-in-chief, Dan Falchikov, is a PR genius. Fresh from inadvertently telling a journalist about a fake story he created, he volunteered to help in Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith's office, using a false name. The would-be mole was rumbled, though, when councillors in Richmond recognised his email address. The message, he assured them, was "sent in error".
Patronising comment of the day
Never let it be said that journalists are out of touch. A Sky News reporter travelling with Gordon Brown tweeted: "I always enjoy these factory visits... the staff appreciate the attention, albeit brief."
Quote of the day
Gordon Brown showed how in touch he is in a Radio Times interview. Asked how he had described Amy Winehouse to a curious Nelson Mandela, Mr Brown replied: "Well, she sort of answered the question for herself. She said, 'Nelson Mandela and my husband have something in common: they've both spent a lot of time in prison'."
Brown nose of the day
Alan Johnson, who said: "I don't know if I can improve on your perfect answer, Prime Minister."
Election fatigue of the day
Whisper it quietly, but one or two among us may, in time, begin to tire of this seemingly endless campaign. Spare a thought then, for the reality TV "star" and Conservative candidate for Mid-Bedfordshire, Nadine Dorries, who seems to have an early case of election fatigue. She tweeted: "A morning full of being made to do what I hate doing most ... the paperwork and planning – boring, boring." Poor lamb. Maybe she should have a nap.
Human face of the day
In an interview with a women's fitness magazine, Zest, Nick Clegg admitted to a delinquency. "If I've had a really long day, I steal into the back garden and have a quick smoke," he said. "It drives Miriam around the bend."
Scare tactic of the day... continued
After Andrew Charalambous, the Tory candidate for Edmonton, north London, circulated leaflets bearing a picture of a machete dripping with blood, he is forging ahead with his "positive campaigning". Voters are now confronted with leaflets daubed with a bloody slogan telling them they live in the "crime capital of Europe". "Vote for: Andrew Charalambous", they are urged. Don't all rush at once.
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