8 Feb 2013

Cameron gets his cut – despite ‘le snub’ from France

Here, courtesy of Open Europe, is the draft the EU countries are currrently working on – click here to download the document. We’re coming to the end of a break in proceedings during which the Dutch, the Germans and the Swedes have been trying to iron out their contributions.

Some eastern European smaller countries have been trying to win back some losses from the overnight negotiations… but it’s hard to see the headline figures changing and they will allow David Cameron to come back to London in a cheery mood. Back in October he wasn’t confident of getting a cut in the EU budget – he endured a Commons defeat holding out against such a commitment. But now he’s got it. And thanks in no small order to Chancellor Merkel.

Whether David Cameron says it or not, his supporters are already proclaiming this as a vindication of his Europe speech and hardline strategy. Why else, they ask, would Chancellor Merkel side with him so helpfully in these negotiations?

Well, she always wanted a lower budget than the recipient countries, and it’s a handy thing to return to Berlin with in an election year when German voters are tired of bailing out Europe. EU sources say she was always tyring to broker a compromise between David Cameron’s bottom line on the “payments” total (orginally EY886b and then revised in talks to “I need a number starting with an 8”) and Francois Hollande’s “EU915b and no lower”.

She settled the deal on EU908b, and some old Europe hands are suggesting Davis Cameron shouldn’t assume too much about her future support in other EU debates where their interests may not coincide.

There’s much focus in the UK press on “le snub” and Francois Hollande‘s failure to turn up for a lengthy and important meeting between Chancellor Merkel, David Cameron, Herman van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso. It seems President Hollande didn’t like the idea of being seen to carve up Europe with the UK prime minister – it wouldn’t look great with his domestic audience. He managed to make it along later, to a different combination of leaders including the Spanish prime minister and Chancellor Merkel.

In the dead of night Francois Hollande warned EU leaders not to cut any closer to David Cameron’s target because the European parliament, which holds a veto over the budget, would be guaranteed to reject such a budget. That seems to have helped to put a brake on procceedings, but it still looks quite plausible that the European parliament could vote against the deal on 12/13 March in Strasbourg, just before the next EU summit.

The question may be whether it is biddable, with some relatively minor adjustments that the European Commission can deal with. The MEPs may end up having a secret ballot to reject the budget. Many of them belong to the parties represented by the leaders who just agreed (or will later, I hope) the budget in Brussels.

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