BERLIN, June 7 (Reuters) - Two starkly differing views on pan-Europeanism were on display on Thursday as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron sparred over his party’s exit from a centre-right bloc in the European parliament.
The Tories’ exit from the European People’s Party (EPP) in 2009 after Cameron became party leader remains a sore point between London and Berlin, who otherwise share plenty of common ground on issues like the need for fiscal discipline in Europe, despite Britain not being a member of the euro zone.
But Britain’s prime minister, invited to speak to students at Merkel’s Berlin office alongside the chancellor and Norwegian leader Jens Stoltenberg, said bluntly that he did not believe there would be “genuine” pan-European parties for a long time.
“The truth is we don’t have European political parties now and I don’t think we will have genuine European political parties for really quite a long time,” said Cameron, who left the EPP in disagreement with its federalist vision of Europe.
“Angela and I agree about many things: we both think getting rid of budget deficits is important, we both believe in free enterprise, we are both members of NATO, we have lots that we agree about, but we don’t agree for instance about nuclear power or the fiscal compact,” said the British premier.
Calling pan-European parties “unrealistic”, Cameron added: “My idea about Europe is that we should grow together rather than push things too fast, otherwise we have problems.”
Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) is a leading light of the EPP, whose national leaders habitually meet before European Union summits to hammer out a centre-right consensus.
Merkel acknowledged that parties in the EPP family often had differences, but said her CDU had much in common with France’s UMP and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party.
“We regretted the Tories leaving the European People’s Party but you didn’t exactly join the Socialist party family instead,” she joked to Cameron.
Cameron’s party is now in the Eurosceptic-minded European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament.
“I think it’s good if Europe becomes a little party-politicised,” said Merkel, citing common EU foreign policy as an area where this might help avoid the situation where “we are weak when we disagree”.
Cameron has been criticised for isolating Britain further by rejecting Merkel’s fiscal compact for tougher budget rules, which has been agreed to by 25 out of 27 member states. He also rejects proposals for a pan-European financial transactions tax.
“Outside the euro zone we don’t need to sign the fiscal compact. It would be good if in Britain we didn’t rack up debts again, but I think we should rely on the people to vote in and vote out governments when they do the right thing or the wrong thing, rather than constrain ourselves, because we have our own currency so we can make our own rules,” Cameron said.