23 Nov 2012

Merkel: don’t pick on Cameron

Angela Merkel’s been trying to throw her protective coat around David Cameron’s shoulders this morning. On the fringes of this summit she’s been making it clear that she doesn’t agree with those who are lining up David Cameron as the fall guy for the EU’s budget problems.

She actually met David Cameron for a face to face chat this morning but before that was heard expressing concern that people shouldn’t keep targeting David Cameron and he was right to want costs cut even if she wasn’t pursuing the same target total as him.

She said it would help if Van Rompuy and Barroso were a bit more accommodating of the UK (and other contributor nations). Last night’s revised Van Rompuy proposals, she felt, made concessions to the recipient countries without giving contributor countries anything to cheer them up.

Chancellor Merkel mentioned the example of administration costs, which David Cameron highlighted in a testy conversation with Jose Manuel Barroso yesterday. The revised Herman Van Rompuy figures presented last night came back with no change whatsoever to admin/personnel costs and, for good measure, a Brussels source has been circulating a tally of how much better off the Brussels-based British officials are.

In Angela Merkel’s view, the EU bosses should be making more of an effort to keep the UK on side. This is, of course, the same Angela Merkel who asked the European Commission to explore ways of getting a budget without Britain in the lead-up to this summit. Maybe she regrets that particular move? But she is here in her traditional role as conciliator, trying to get a deal.

That’s why she abandoned the position she once shared with David Cameron , demanding that the EU rein in its spending, setting up camp instead a bit closer to the middle of the argument. She knows there won’t be a deal without David Cameron on board and she doesn’t want to be party to something that adds to anti-European feeling in Britain if she can avoid it.

This morning she’s been saying that there needs to be a “miracle” to sort this summit out but Van Rompuy does not sound like a man intending to throw in the towel. One figure close to the European Council president suggested that he’d decided to send everyone to bed at midnight last night so they were fresher to work all the way through tonight. The source said he definitely has more cards up his sleeve to play later in the negotiations.

Britain still wants “tens of billions” off the overall total for the budget to get to what we deem to be a real terms freeze. We still have the Dutch and Swedes as allies – indeed, on some areas of the budget they are reported to be more hardline than the UK.

And then there’s the subsidiary matters that the EU members want written into this budget, about 100 or so quite separate, special, national issues – like whether a certain region of Belgium is classified as deserving “intermediate” status entitling it to additional funds.

They all have to be agreed while the 28 countries in the room try to agree who’s paying what and what it’s being spent on (28 because Croatia has observer and speaking rights as a soon-to-be member but no voting rights).

The plenary session at 1pm will be the first opportunity for all those countries round the table to say their bit in front of their peers – last night only the Europe bosses spoke before sending everyone off to bed. Given the numbers round the table those meetings take an absolute minimum of two hours for everyone to say something so it could be substantially into this afternoon before we know much more.

Follow @GaryGibbonBlog on Twitter.

Tweets by @garygibbonc4