LONDON (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi urged Britain on Tuesday to remain in the European Union, saying its membership was “crucial” for the 28-member bloc.
“There is no Europe, there is no great Europe without the presence of the United Kingdom,” he told a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
“For us, it is fundamental that, in the complex, complicated process that is getting underway, the presence of the UK in Europe should not be in discussion. It is absolutely fundamental and crucial for us and we will work together, I am sure of it.”
Cameron has promised a referendum by 2017 to decide whether Britain remains in the EU if his Conservative Party wins next year’s national elections. The Conservatives are being pushed to take a harder line on the issue by the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP), which opinion polls show has a small but growing share of the popular vote.
The 39-year-old Renzi, Italy’s youngest-ever prime minister, leads his country’s biggest center-left party. He is widely seen as an non-ideological moderniser and is often compared to Cameron’s predecessor as prime minister, Tony Blair.
He has embarked on an ambitious campaign of economic and constitutional reforms aimed at pulling his country out of its longest postwar slump. He also argues that the EU must change its focus from budget austerity to do more to promote growth and cut unemployment.
Over the past few weeks, he has outlined his reforms to a succession of world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Reporting by Francesco Canepa and James Mackenzie; Editing by Larry King