David Cameron heads for Brussels summit with Tory eurosceptics' expectations at a low ebb
By Jonathan Isaby
David Cameron heads for Brussels for a two-day European Council today with expectation management already resulting in the Guardian reporting that the Prime Minister "admits defeat in a battle to freeze the budget".
Despite a round of phone calls to European leaders last night, to be followed by further face-to-face talks at the summit, it is being reported that on the question of the EU Budget the best that we could hope for is keeping the rise down to 2.9% - as opposed to the 5.9% increase being pushed by the European Commission and European Parliament.
A 2.9% increase would still represent an increase in the British contribution of more than £435 million and would frankly still be an outrage given the cuts or freezes affecting all areas of the domestic budget.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is, according to the FT (£), using the summit to push for a change to the Lisbon Treaty "to ensure the future stability of the eurozone" along the lines of proposals from Herman Van Rompuy as reported here yesterday.
Treasury minister Mark Hoban said yesterday that the UK would be exempt from such measures relating to EU economic governance, but any treaty change is surely going to have to be subject to unanimous agreement by all member states.
In other words, David Cameron's seal of approval is necessary for any such agreement and in return he should surely be pushing for renegotiation in other areas - not just merely accepting a reduction in the rise of the EU budget as the optimum outcome for the UK. In any case, if there is a new treaty or an amendment to the Lisbon Treaty, shouldn't there be a referendum in this country to approve it, in line with the Coalition Government's referendum lock?
Camilla Cavendish makes all of my points far more eloquently in today's Times (£) and concludes by saying:
"Today is a serious test of the Government’s negotiating skills, and its willingness to set Europe on a new course. Mr Cameron has a choice: will he side with the elites or the people?"
It depresses me to say that I fear it will be the former. I hope that the Prime Minister may yet surprise me and other Tory eurosceptics over the next 48 hours.
> On Saturday Paul wrote about why David Cameron's unlikely to push hard to freeze or cut the EU budget