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Cameron seeks to reassure France over EU ties

LONDON (Reuters) - Conservative leader David Cameron told French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday he would be an “active and energetic” participant in the European Union if he became prime minister after a forthcoming election.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy meets with British Conservative Party leader David Cameron (L) at the French Ambassador's residence in London March 12, 2010. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

The Conservatives, who are hostile to closer European integration, are seeking to end 13 years of Labour government by winning an election expected on May 6. They are ahead in the polls by a slim margin.

“He (Cameron) told President Sarkozy that on the EU generally, a Conservative government would be an active and energetic participant,” a spokesman said after the two men met at the French ambassador’s residence in London.

Sarkozy is from the same broad centre-right political family as the Conservatives but is much more enthusiastic about the EU.

Cameron stressed the importance of defence ties between Paris and London, saying he was keen to pursue cooperation on procurement and to upgrade a high-level working group on defence so that it could meet on a quarterly or bi-annual basis.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have promised a strategic defence review after the election. Cameron told Sarkozy that if he were in office, he would ask France to make a formal submission to the review.

The spokesman said Cameron had also assured Sarkozy that under his leadership, Britain would remain committed to the European anti-piracy naval force operating off the coast of Somalia.

Cameron also said that on financial regulation issues, a Conservative government would be keen to engage at the EU level.

Sarkozy was dismayed last year when Cameron pulled his party out of the European People’s Party (EPP), the mainstream centre-right group in the European Parliament which includes Sarkozy’s own UMP.

Friday’s meeting was seen as an opportunity for the two men to overcome the frostiness caused by that decision, and prepare for possibly having to work together after the election.

A spokesman for Sarkozy said the meeting had lasted a little over half an hour and had been “warm and friendly.”

At an earlier joint news conference with Gordon Brown, Sarkozy said he regretted that the Conservatives had quit the EPP, adding that it was better for the EU to have broad, well-organised political forces.

The Conservative spokesman said Cameron and Sarkozy had not dwelt on that particular issue during their meeting because the Conservatives had clearly spelt out their position in the past and Sarkozy’s attitude was very much “what’s done is done.”

Cameron said that if he took office, he would press ahead with plans for an Anglo-French summit in July.

He would also wish to appropriately celebrate the 70th anniversary of French wartime hero Charles de Gaulle’s radio appeal from London on June 18, 1940, in which he called on the French not to give up the fight against Nazi Germany.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon