STRASBOURG -- Ed Miliband would be the best prime minister for the UK, the President of the European Parliament has said, telling HuffPost UK he thought David Cameron's approach to EU reform was "strange".
Speaking to HuffPost UK from the Parliament building in Strasbourg, social democrat President Martin Schulz said he was resigned to an 'in-out' referendum happening in 2017 were Cameron to win to general election next year, but said he hoped Labour would be victorious.
He accused Cameron of being "vague" about what he wanted when he talked of "re-negotiating" with the EU in advance of the proposed referendum.
President Martin Schulz speaks at the European Parliament in Strasbourg
"Let's be clear," he said. "If they [Cameron's proposals] are not in the interests of all 28 member states, we will not get it [any re-negotiation]."
Cameron has announced he wants to block European Union migrants from claiming welfare for the first four years after they arrive in Britain, and warned that welfare reforms will be an "absolute requirement" in the renegotiation with Brussels.
Schulz said that the UK was not part of the Schengen Group [26 European member states without border control] or in the euro, and the rest of the member states would only look at any new proposals for change once they were concrete.
"He says ‘our relationship with the European Union’, well, this is a relationship with yourself. The UK is a member of the EU. I don’t negotiate about my relationship with myself, it’s a little bit strange."
"Yes," he said whether he preferred the prospect of a Labour victory. "I think it’s not a surprise that a social democrat is in favour of a Labour victory. I think Ed Miliband is a pro-European, this is a man with strong European experience, and Labour is playing a very constructive role here [in the parliament]."
He said Miliband was had the same line of thinking as Gordon Brown and Tony Blair when it came to Brussels, "not to be involved in everything here, but to be active in Brussels, to increase UK influence in Brussels in the mutual interest of the European Union and the UK".
Miliband, conversely, has been less supportive of Schulz. When the federalist Schulz was the Socialists' candidate to be the next European commission president, the top European role, Labour said the German-born politician's "political priorities" were at odds with their own vision for Europe. Schulz was eventually defeated by the centre-right Jean-Claude Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg.
Though Britain has on the face of it suffered far less than many EU member states during the financial crisis, and its economy is showing fragile growth, it is one of the most Eurosceptic countries by far. A 2013 study for the European Council on Foreign Relations found that since the beginning of the euro crisis, trust in the EU fell from -13 to -49% in the UK. Support for the eurosceptic Ukip is at an all time high of 16% in the most recent polls.
Schulz said that scepticism was down to Britain's "inward-looking tendency... in the United Kingdom it is very strong".
"For the last couple of years, there has been a tendency that... problems that you can’t explain by looking inward are scapegoated elsewhere, to the European Union," he said, citing migration, economic development, and growth. "Inward-looking people are suddenly surprised that it is not enough to just look inward because even the United Kingdom plays a role in this global development, and they say, this is because we are in the European Union. It’s the easiest explanation."
Schulz said that economic concerns were breeding xenophobia, and the two could be separated. "Xenophobia is the reaction to a feeling of threat. Xenophobia is lower in countries with a more equal distribution of wealth than in societies with a big gap, a social gap."
"There are hard-core xenophobes too, obviously, right-wingers, extremists," he added, but said he did not think that right-wing extremism or indeed true Euroscepticism was at the heart of the Ukio surge.
"The leadership of the parties [like Ukip] don’t represent the voters of the party. It is an extremist vote by people who vote because they are disappointed.
"They are a protest vote," he continued, calling the surge in support in recent by-elections and the European parliament elections "a yellow card vote".
"We should be prudent, and not consider these people [who vote] as racists or xenophobes," he said. "This is a cry ‘don’t forget about us’.
"Not all voters of the French Front National either. If you look at the analysis there are people who voted previously for the Communist Party, now [FN]. These are not right-wing extremists."
The answer, Schulz said, was not for the mainstream parties to become more xenophobic themselves. “They [the voters] are people in a hopeless situation. Delivering social justice and protection for citizens is the best way to regain trust and win them back.”
Ed Miliband would be the EU Parliament's President's preferred choice for UK PM
Schulz said he believed the answer to the feeling of detachment that many Britons feel towards European institutions was an even closer union. "My feeling is that a full-fledged, fully involved UK in the European Union would influence much more, not always stepping to one side and leaving things in the hands of other people.
"This is the big contradiction. Because they are not fully involved, they influence less, and they are frustrated. This is a problem which is becoming increasingly a problem for both sides, for the EU and the UK."
Freedom of movement across the EU and the resulting migration of many citizens of member states to Britain has been cited as a key concern of Ukip and of the Conservatives.
"I remember very well the time when one country urged the EU to enlarge as fast as possible, it was the United Kingdom," Schulz said. "Today, the United Kingdom says we have too much Eastern European workers here. Can you imagine the reaction of Eastern European countries? They considered the United Kingdom as their strongest ally, some of them are relatively disappointed by the reaction."
He acknowledge the EU had to bear some responsibility for its “image problem.”
Schulz recalled the experience of his “post-war German” parents, who he said “invested everything… because the country said ‘it is for your children’.”
“Now, what are my generation doing?” he continued. “We are asking sacrifices from parents, for billions and billions and for what? For saving banks. And their children are unemployed.
“How can I expect that they have trust? How can we believe that they feel decently treated? I am quite clear people have lost trust.”