(STRASBOURG) - Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny warned Wednesday that a British exit from the EU would be a disaster, after giving a passionately pro-Europe speech to the European Parliament.
"I think it would be catastrophic if Britain were to leave the European Union," Kenny told reporters after a keynote address to the European Parliament to mark his country's six-month stint in the EU policy chair.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is to give a keenly-awaited speech on relations with the EU on Friday in Amsterdam, with eurosceptics sensing blood in the next European elections in 2014.
In December, EU president Herman Van Rompuy warned that the EU, and especially the single market that Cameron sees as its greatest asset, "would soon unravel" if governments were able to "cherry-pick" only those parts they liked.
The United States, Germany and other allies have also urged Cameron to avoid a so-called "Brexit" from the EU -- a British exit, and a play on the "Grexit" term coined for twice bailed-out Greece.
Kenny kept up that pressure in Strasbourg. "I regard myself as a close working, political friend of Prime Minister Cameron's.
"We signed a strategic partnership agreement with Britain last year. We have very close relationships obviously, with our closest neighbour, both in trade and economics and all the rest of it."
In a long-trailed speech, Cameron is widely expected to demand the repatriation of certain powers from Brussels and to propose a referendum on future membership terms, which Tuesday's Times said could be held in 2018.
The EU bloc was originally based on post-World War II trade in coal and steel, but is now characterised by deep strains between its decade-old euro currency core and non-euro members like Britain around it.
Cameron is under pressure from opinion polls suggesting growing hostility to the EU, especially in England, but the issue has caused tensions with business leaders and coalition partners, his Liberal Democrat deputy Nick Clegg warning of a "chilling effect" on the economy.
The momentum for a referendum has increased markedly since it became clear that a referendum would be held in 2014 on independence for Scotland, which is traditionally more pro-European.
In what Kenny described as "the Irish way" having "re-invested in our European relationships," he said that fixing the EU, as opposed to quitting it, was "the outstanding task of our generation" of politicians.
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