Andrew Grice: PM's charms make up for his unpopular choice of friends

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The Independent Online

"It's the first time I have had egg and bacon," Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, told David Cameron as he welcomed him to the Commission's giant Berlaymont building for breakfast.

Normally, it's croissants, croissants and more croissants Chez Barroso (the EU leaders' lunch menu was more exotic – langoustine and chicken), but the Commission President was bending over backwards to make the Prime Minister feel at home for his first appearance on the EU stage.

"A very nice start to the day," smiled Mr Cameron.

The euro may be on the ropes and the next sovereign debt crisis anxiously awaited, but the PM's surprisingly positive stance on Europe has brought some welcome relief to Brussels, which feared the return of the Thatcher handbag. But yesterday it was handshakes, back-slapping and smiles all round during a frantic round of one-to-ones with fellow EU leaders. "It's a love-in," one official reported. His counterparts were so friendly you wondered whether they thought they were meeting Nick Clegg.

The Deputy PM is getting rave reviews around Europe after his mini-tour of Berlin and Madrid last week. Spain's political elite was bowled over by his fluent Spanish and wished he were Britain's main man. But Spanish officials were pleasantly surprised at Mr Cameron's positive approach in talks with Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Socialist Prime Minister. Mr Cameron even offered his commiserations for Spain's unexpected World Cup defeat by Switzerland. Mr Zapatero, whose country teeters on the brink of a Greek-style debt crisis, joked that the Swiss had played so well because so much of Europe's money had been moved into Swiss banks. Football aside, Mr Cameron and Mr Zapatero also discovered a shared love of jogging.

Later, a hyperactive Cameron shook hands with most of the 27 EU leaders as he worked the room before the formal meeting. In his debut speech, he promised to be pro-active, engaged and positive on Europe, but said he would defend Britain's national interests when he needed to. He didn't have to fight very hard yesterday, as it suited everyone to avoid a row.

Mr Cameron's positive start appears to have repaired most of the damage caused by his decision to pull Tory MEPs out of the mainstream centre-right group in the European Parliament. During nine hours of talks with EU heads, Mr Cameron allocated just five minutes for Michal Kaminsky, the controversial right-wing Polish MEP who leads the Tories' new group and who had flown in from Poland to see him. But the PM now has bigger fish – and chips – to fry.

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