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Published: Thursday January 30, 2014 MYT 11:45:59 PM
Updated: Thursday January 30, 2014 MYT 11:47:01 PM

UK wields far more influence in EU than thought - lobby group

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain enjoys far greater influence inside the European Union than its largely eurosceptic public believes, a pro-EU campaign group said on Thursday, warning that any decision to leave the bloc would be a "suicidal indulgence".

Presenting what it said would be an annual scorecard of Britain's progress in Europe, British Influence said London was on track to meet nine out of 10 of its EU policy goals and was a force to be reckoned with in the 28-nation bloc.

"As our report today shows Britain often leads in Europe and could do so more often. Leaving seems like a suicidal indulgence," said Peter Wilding, director of the group, which wants Britain to stay in a reformed EU.

"People could be proud to be part of Britain as a leader in Europe but, as far as they are concerned, Britain is a loser. This lack of clear leadership from the political elite and the lack of any balance from the media leave a sad picture."

The scorecard, an attempt to influence Britain's debate on its membership of the EU, comes as Prime Minister David Cameron struggles to unite his ruling Conservative party on the issue and as polls show the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) is set to do well in elections to the European Parliament in May.

Cameron has promised to try to renegotiate Britain's EU ties if re-elected next year and then to give Britons an in/out EU membership referendum before the end of 2017.

Many polls show a slim majority of Britons would, if given the chance, vote to leave because they are fed up with what they see as the EU's overbearing influence. Britain's other main political parties are not promising to hold such a referendum.

"FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP"

British Influence said its scorecard, based on a cross-party analysis of Britain's progress across a range of EU policies in 2013, showed London had been successful in 20 areas and failed in only four.

In a further 20 areas, the group said Britain had partially succeeded but that its gains could not be guaranteed.

The report cited the EU's opening of trade talks with the United States as meeting a key British objective.

On the debit side, it said London had failed to stop the European Commission, the EU's supranational executive body, getting involved in matters beyond its remit.

As an example of policy where more remained to be done, the group said Cameron would need to recruit allies in central and eastern Europe if he was to move ahead with long-term plans to restrict EU freedom of movement.

Fears of more migrants from poorer ex-communist countries coming to Britain and taking advantage of its social welfare system have stoked anti-EU sentiment in Britain, especially with the lifting of work restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians.

British Influence said the results of its survey contrasted sharply with public perceptions of Britain's success in shaping the bloc. It cited one recent poll showing that 61 percent of Britons thought their country had little or no influence and few if any friends inside the EU.

"The failure to lead and inform the public of their country's place in the world as Churchill, Thatcher and Blair sought to do has left an existential vacuum," said Wilding, invoking three previous British prime ministers.

"It needs to be filled by a new patriotism where the people are guided by their leaders and informed by their press that Britain is a big player in Europe, often wins its battles and keeps its friends."

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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