“We have succeeded quite spectacularly. I hit the phones yesterday before coming to the summit and stopped that (budget) juggernaut in its tracks.”
David Cameron, Prime Minister, Brussels summit, 29 October, 2010
David Cameron was modest enough to admit he hadn’t found El Dorado here in Brussels. But he did claim he’d succeeded “quite spectacularly” in persuading 12 other European countries to reject an increase in the EU budget of nearly 6 per cent – backing a 2.9 per cent rise instead.
From where his eurosceptic backbenchers are sitting though, that looks rather more like failure than success.
Only last weekend, Mr Cameron told the Daily Mail: “We need to start working on trying to keep next year’s budget down. It should be a freeze or a cut.”
And just over a month ago, in the Commons chamber, he was quite clear. “We have called for a cash freeze in the size of the EU budget for 2011 and we are working hard to make this case across Europe,” he said.
A senior aide, involved in the negotiations here in Brussels, told me the PM had made a “mistake” talking about a freeze and that he simply hadn’t focused on the issue of the EU budget until a few days ago.
That’s not to say Mr Cameron hasn’t got anything to write home about. The EU budget wasn’t up for discussion here, but discuss it he did.
And it was an achievement of sorts to get 12 other countries to reject the European Parliament’s demands for a rise of close to 6 per cent – though they’d agreed in principle to do so back in the summer, and the EU budget Commissioner warned tonight the final figure could end up being higher than 2.9 per cent after all.
Finally, it was a feather in the PM’s cap to insist that future EU budgets take account of his and other member states’ austerity measures back home. But it’s worth pointing out that over the last decade national budgets around Europe have been higher than the EU budget.
Despite all those small advances, the bottom line is that when Mr Cameron talked up the prospect of a freeze or even a cut, a 2.9 per cent rise is certainly spectacular, but hardly a success.