Why David Cameron's unlikely to push hard next week to freeze or cut the EU budget
By Paul Goodman
The Daily Mail has a bar down the right-hand column of its front page proclaiming "Cameron: I'll lead revolt in EU cash." He proclaims the proposed six per cent EU budget rise to be "outrageous...completely irresponsible...unacceptable." But although there's certainly plenty of EU cash, there's no evidence of a revolt, led by the Prime Minister or anyone else. He tells the paper that he will be "at the European Council coming up next week seeking allies" (my italics).
The Mail's pulled its story out of a larger interview from Cameron snatched earlier this week on a train to Nottingham. It therefore looks as though the paper's given his remarks more projection than they bear, although a wider briefing to tomorrow's papers may prove me wrong. The recent Commons backbench revolt on the budget proved that the EU issue remains, for much of the Conservative Party, as urgent, vital and talismanic an issue as ever. But the truth is that the vote's come and gone, and if the Government doesn't want to put up much of a fight about the budget next week, it can get away with it.
What causes British governments agonies over the EU isn't abstract arguments but particular events - and especially treaties. Treaties mean drafts, texts, negotiations, publicity, Commons votes - and, sometimes, promises of referendums. Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel are pushing for a Treaty to help stabilise the Euro. Our establishment is plainly petrified of one. I write "establishment" because of a recent detail that caught my eye - a report claiming that -
"Britain has fought hard since March this year to block changes to the Lisbon Treaty by warning Germany and France that it would open the EU as a divisive political issue across Europe and that it could trigger a British referendum, almost certainly leading to a No vote."
But the country has of course had a change of government since March. I may be making too much of a single report, but it speaks eloquently of an essential continuity of EU policy since Gordon Brown left Downing Street, David Cameron went in, and the Coalition Agreeement scuppered the repatriation of powers and other provisions in the Conservative Manifesto. The Government will be able to escape this week's meeting without a reduced EU budget. But it won't be able to evade the profound political and constitutional issues thrown up by a future treaty.