The British Labour party described as "complete nonsense" allegations that they would leave the Party of European Socialists (PES) over their opposition to Martin Schulz, the PES' top candidate for May's EU elections.
The rebuff came after the European Voice newspaper reported on Thursday that Labour would leave the PES over its opposition to having Martin Schulz lead the party's campaign for the European elections.
Responding to the speculation, in an interview with EURACTIV, Labour’s shadow minister for Europe, Gareth Thomas, stressed: “It is nonsense, complete nonsense, to suggest we are thinking of leaving the European socialist party (PES).”
“We are fully committed to the European party, and we are proud to work alongside other socialist member parties,” Thomas said, adding that Labour was currently liaising with other European socialist parties to plan their campaigns.
Thomas did admit, however, that Labour “had concerns about Martin Schulz’s past statements on Europe”. The Labour party had stated earlier that its political priorities clashed with Schulz’ vision.
When Martin Schulz was elected to become the PES campaign frontman at the party's congress in Rome on 1 March, Labour delegates did not endorse his candidacy. A Labour spokesperson told The Guardian that “while not being able to support the PES common candidate for this year's election, we continue to support the principle of having common candidates.”
Schulz, a German social democrat, is the current president of the European Parliament, and is running to become the next European Commission president. He has been repeatedly criticised for having little political experience outside of Brussels.
His main rival for the election is the former Luxembourg prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, who is leading the campaign for the centre-right European People's Party (EPP). Other lead pan-European party candidates include Guy Verhofstadt for the Liberals, the Green duo of José Bové and Ska Keller and far-left candidate Alexis Tsipras.
Schulz campaign in the UK would have ‘adverse effect’
European political parties are currently stepping up their EU election campaigns, with several lead candidates planning to travel to EU member states to support national campaigns and mobilise voters.
It is unlikely, however, that such pan-European candidates will be welcome in Britain, where Euroscepticism is on the rise.
Renaud Thillaye, a researcher at the London-based think tank Policy Network, which is close to the PES, said the British election campaign would “not discuss policies but rather the future of the EU-UK relationship”.
The presence of presidential candidates, like Schulz, “might actually have an adverse effect," he said. "They would be very easy targets.”
Chances are that Labour will try to distance itself from the pan-European campaign, rather than associate itself with joint appearances and photo-ops.
“We are still working out the way he will act in different campaigns,” said Julian Priestley, a former secretary general of the European Parliament who advises Schulz in this election campaign.
“The problem, I think, for all mainstream parties in the UK is this huge Eurosceptic interest," Priestley told EURACTIV. "Inevitably he [Martin Schulz] will be the subject of certain media attention. But Labour has said it supports the procedure and the idea of having a common candidate. We’ll have to see to what extent that engagement will be pursued in the campaign."
Labour itself refrained from commenting on whether Schulz should visit the UK during his European tour. “I don’t know what the plans are, or what his diary is,” Thomas said, dodging the question.
The British Labour party is in the lead to win the upcoming European elections, with latest polls indicating it could take 28 seats out of 73, ahead of UKIP (polling at 20 seats) and the Conservative Party of Prime Minister David Cameron (polling at 16 seats).
The British contingent would make up 13% of all social-democrat MEPs of the S&D group, which is polling at 214 seats in total.
British voters will head to the polls on 22 May to vote in the European Parliament elections as well as local elections.