EU leaders have just left their negotiations over the EU budget for a two hour break and so far it’s looking very, very positive for the Prime Minister. Perhaps David Cameron should pick a bracing walk rather than a car into every summit from now on because in the early hours of this morning, EU president Herman Van Rompuy tabled a package that would answer Cameron’s demands for a reduction in spending. This €34.4 billion cut for the spending limits in the multi annual financial framework billion would be the first cut in the budget in the EU’s history.
As I said yesterday, the PM was in a tight spot, not wanting to irritate EU leaders too much, or come back to his own parliament empty handed. He appears to have skilfully negotiated something that keeps both (apart from a very sulky François Hollande) on side. Remember his MPs had sent him to Brussels demanding a cut in the Budget. Coming back without one would not have been a pleasant experience. This is what Mark Pritchard, one of the MPs who tabled the amendment calling for a cut, told Coffee House this morning:
‘If David Cameron achieves a real-terms cut it will be a huge political triumph for him personally and for all those MPs who backed the Reckless/Pritchard amendment. However, I hope that triumph is not diluted by the UK still having to pay more to an inefficient, wasteful and sometimes corrupt entity. UK taxpayers should not pay a penny more.’
Pritchard’s partner in the EU Budget rebellion Mark Reckless is similarly enthusiastic, saying:
‘If the Prime Minister is able to bring back a cut in the EU Budget as mandated by Parliament the whole country will want to congratulate him.’
But, before the Conservative party returns to its post-speech euphoria, the deal hasn’t yet been signed off: so far the most significant thing is that Van Rompuy came up with the goods at all. And even if Cameron does come home waving a piece of paper with the terms of the cut on it, the deal still has to get past MEPs, with European Parliament speaker Martin Schulz throwing a bit of a strop this morning over a budget which covers ‘a time span during which at least one member state has said that it may leave the European Union’. He is threatening to veto the cut because it would lead a structural deficit.
The PM has disappeared for a rest during the break in negotiations. Presumably he’ll be sneaking a peek at the other good news of the day, which is Lord Ashcroft’s Eastleigh poll, showing the Tories 3 per cent ahead.