U.K. opposition leader Ed Miliband began a tour of northern Europe seeking to demonstrate he’s fully engaged with the European Union following Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent confrontations.
Since the start of the year, Cameron has pledged a referendum on U.K. membership of the 27-nation bloc and then negotiated its first-ever budget cut. Miliband, whose Labour Party leads Cameron’s Tories in opinion polls, has argued that the promise of a popular vote by the end of 2017 is likely to deter investors and that the premier is isolated in Europe and having his policy dictated by euro-skeptic lawmakers at home.
The Labour leader started his tour today in Copenhagen, where he met the Social Democrat Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, before flying to Sweden. He’ll also visit the Netherlands. His choice of countries suggests that, like Cameron, he sees the U.K.’s best allies in the EU as north European countries. It was these nations that joined Britain and Germany to push for a budget cut at this month’s EU summit.
“What is the negotiating strategy of David Cameron over the next four years?” Miliband told reporters after talks with Thorning-Schmidt. “My view is let’s make changes in Europe now. Let’s not wait for years. One of the reasons for my trip is to say: How can we on the center-left be driving forward a reform agenda for Europe that deals with these issues now?”
Thorning-Schmidt is the daughter-in-law of a previous Labour leader, Neil Kinnock. Kinnock, who led the party from 1983 to 1992, was defeated at two elections. He went on to become a European commissioner from 1995 until 2004.
“We’ve chosen a slightly different path” to Cameron, she told reporters. “We seek to be part of the core” in the EU.
From Copenhagen Miliband traveled to Sweden, where Stefan Loefven, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, was due to hold a dinner in the Labour leader’s honor at his party’s country retreat of Bommersvik, southwest of Stockholm. Miliband will address Social Democrat lawmakers in the parliament in the Swedish capital tomorrow.
Speaking to journalists alongside Miliband before the dinner, Loefven attacked Cameron’s referendum strategy. “Of course we want to change and develop the EU,” he said. “But if everyone is acting like Mr. Cameron, first renegotiate, then put that result to a referendum, that would mean 10 years of chaos in the EU. We need to change it, but we can do that without throwing everything up in the air and seeing where it falls down.”
Miliband praised Sweden’s Social Democrats as the most successful party of its type in Europe. Asked by local journalists to name his favorite leader of the party, he replied at length about the achievements of Olof Palme, who ran the party until his assassination in 1986, and described him as “a huge inspiration.”
“One of the things we’ve always looked to Sweden for is a more equitable distribution of incomes,” Miliband said. “How do we make our economies not just competitive, but how do we make them fair as well?”
The Labour leader will see Diederik Samsom, the leader of the Labor Party that’s in the Dutch coalition government, in The Hague on Feb. 20.
In 2011, Cameron established the “Nordic-Baltic Summit,” an annual meeting of Northern European nations, more sympathetic to the British view that the EU should focus on free trade, rather than social legislation. That grouping holds its next meeting in the Latvian capital Riga on Feb. 28.
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