The European Parliament chief has accused Prime Minister David Cameron of depicting the EU almost as “an enemy, an occupying enemy” in his landmark speech on the UK’s future in Europe.
Martin Schulz warned yesterday that Mr Cameron’s criticism and call for renegotiating Britain’s relations with the EU ahead of a referendum “could be a self-fulfilling prophecy”.
Mr Schulz called on the Prime Minister to explain his blueprint for a condensed European Union to the parliament and warned that 21st century challenges require solutions beyond individual nations.
Speaking in Brussels, the European Parliament president also warned Mr Cameron not to seek too many cuts in the 2014-2020 EU budget which will be discussed at the February 7-8 summit of EU leaders, or it could be rejected by the parliament.
“When I read this speech I wondered what is this great evil that the British see in Europe,” said Mr Schulz.
The speech was seen by many as a gamble to shore up support for Mr Cameron’s fractured, increasingly anti-EU party that risked antagonising other countries focused on dealing with the eurozone debt crisis.
“I would be pleased to welcome David Cameron to the European Parliament to make a presentation about his ideas,” Mr Schulz said.
UKIP claimed Mr Cameron’s announcement as its biggest victory, with a departure from the EU now a realistic possibility.
“You see these knee-jerk reactions. This is dangerous,” said Mr Schulz, adding Britain had no reason to complain about the EU, where it had already won many exemptions.
One of Britain’s latest demands is to slash the EU budget, and Mr Cameron led a group of nations at a November summit to demand cuts in the one trillion euro (£850 billion) seven-year budget.
Mr Schulz warned, however, that any drastic action to reduce the budget could be undone by a rejection from the European Parliament and said “the further the summit goes, the less likely it will be that parliament will agree”.
Meanwhile, if a referendum was held immediately the result would rest on a knife-edge, according to a poll.
According to research carried out for The Times, 40 per cent of voters back an UK exit while 37 per cent want to keep ties with Brussels and 23 per cent do not know.
The Populus survey would translate to a 53-47 vote in favour of leaving after other factors, such as likelihood to vote, were taken into account, according to the newspaper.
Mr Cameron has insisted he wants Britain to remain within the EU, although under a renegotiated settlement.
Labour leader Ed Miliband sought to clarify his own position on Europe, after appearing to rule out an in/out referendum in the House of Commons.
He said: “I am being clear. I do not think it makes sense, now, to commit to an in/out referendum years ahead. And the reason why it does not make sense is clear from what the priority of the British people is. Their priority is jobs and growth and living standards.”