BEIJING (Reuters) - The European Union's foreign policy chief said that she was confident Britain would remain within the bloc as it was in the interests of both the EU and Britain, which goes to the polls on Thursday.
The stakes are higher than usual for the election because of a rare confluence of factors which mean Britain's future in the EU, as well as its national cohesion, could hinge on the outcome.
Neither Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party nor Ed Miliband's opposition Labour has established a clear lead, and the outcome is uncertain. Cameron has promised to hold a referendum on whether to stay in or quit the EU if he returns to power.
Speaking to a group of mostly European students during a visit to Beijing, EU foreign policy boss Federica Mogherini said that it was a very open election whose outcome was hard to predict.
"In any case, I would say that the UK relationship with the EU, the UK membership of the EU, is something that is going to stay," she said, speaking at the elite Peking University.
"I understand that this can be seen as a strong statement. But I'm convinced that it is part of UK national interest to stay as a member of the European Union and it is part of the European interest to keep the UK in the European Union as a full member."
Britain valued the EU's role in dealing with diplomatic problems, especially when it came to the crisis in Ukraine, she added.
"So I believe that the people in the UK, as well as in other parts of Europe, will recognize the added value of being part of this big family, which is, as in all families, not always easy to live in."
Britain is not the only part of the EU where a question hangs over its future membership. There is anti-EU sentiment in some other member states too.
"I don't think the future of Europe is disintegration," Mogherini said. "I don't think the European Union is going to have a u-turn and, after years of enlargement, start to lose pieces. I don't think this is our future."
Greece is another problematic area. Cash-strapped Athens is quickly running out of money while it tries to persuade euro zone partners and the International Monetary Fund to extend aid.
"We are doing all that we can, from the commission side, the European side, and I hope, I'm convinced, also from the Greek side, to find a solution," Mogherini said.
Editing by Nick Macfie