Britain’s Prime Minister will join EU leaders in Brussels today, seven weeks after he refused to sign up to a treaty designed to shore up the eurozone.
The UK became the only country to walk away from the so-called fiscal compact, after David Cameron was rebuffed when he sought protections for Britain’s financial services industry.
It was a decision which tested the strength of the coalition and brought accusations the UK had now pushed itself to the periphery of the EU, its largest trading partner, amid the eurozone crisis.
Today’s informal European Council will concentrate on promoting economic growth across the continent, but discussions will also be held on the permanent bailout fund, the European stability mechanism, and plans on policing debt in the eurozone.
Minister for Europe David Lidington told Sky News that far from being isolated, Britain remains at the centre of the EU decision-making process.
“I have found that that that there is a clear determination to work alongside all partners in the European Union, and they see the UK as one of the leading players in Europe,” he said.
EU leaders met in December but have struggled to implement fiscal harmony
“On the central issues of cooperation to create jobs and promote economic growth and getting single digital and energy markets, there is enormous support for an agenda which was created in the UK.”
But Labour MEPs believe the decision to wield the veto has had consequences for British influence in Brussels.
Privately, party leaders believe veteran MEP Stephen Hughes may have failed to secure the leadership of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament because of his nationality following last December’s summit.
One of his colleagues, Peter Skinner MEP, said the Government’s veto is also harming British interests in important trade talks.
“By claiming that Europe is always wrong about everything it does or by saying, ‘I am going to withdraw from this in a unilateral sense,’ it leaves the Prime Minister outside of the room and outside of the topic of conversation,” he told Sky News.
“There certainly are meetings… with fundamental issues about our economy, and what happens to Britain in terms of our relationship with Europe, which are carrying on without us.”
No formal conclusions will emerge from today’s summit, which is being held in Belgium as the country is expected to be paralysed by a national strike over cuts to wages and benefits.
Planes, trains, buses and trams will all be idled, and military airfields may be used to help leaders arrive and leave the city.