David Cameron and the European People's Party

Do you remember what seemed an obscure row about David Cameron's decision to take the Conservative Party out of the pan European centre-right alliance called the EPP or European People's Party? It may feel rather less obscure today to the prime minister in particular.

As a result of his decision he will not be attending today's pre-summit meeting of the leaders of France, Germany, Portugal, Ireland, Sweden, Romania, Hungary, Finland, Malta, Bulgaria and Poland - the country which currently chairs the EU.

They are all meeting at the EPP Congress. There too will be the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso and the President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek. Quite a gathering and one at which Britain is not represented.

Who cares, reply some. David Cameron should be preparing to emulate the behaviour of his predecessor Margaret Thatcher who in the 1980s didn't set out to win European friends but kept saying "no" until she got a British rebate.

I asked her former Chancellor Nigel Lawson about this yesterday. Interestingly, he said that now was not the time to make a list of demands.

One thing the prime minister is well aware of is that even if the EU can save the Euro and he can "safeguard" the City of London - whatever that means in practice - the next debate approaching fast is the future of the EU budget and, you guessed it, the British rebate.

That's why diplomats always advise ministers against picking unnecessary or unwinnable fights. they can see the next one coming when alliances will have to be built.

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