So David Cameron caved in and agreed to a 2.9% increase in the EU budget. The European Parliament wanted 6%, but Mr Cameron thought that he had negotiated this rise back down to just under 3%. Bravo, it would seem. However, this was a bit different from the freeze, or even cut, that he was promising when writing in last Sunday’s Mail. Of course when Cameron was writing that article, he knew he had to appeal not only to his own membership, which is broadly Eurosceptic, but also to the British public whose scepticism about the European project grows almost daily. In the article, Mr Cameron could not help himself, for he ‘over-egged the pudding’ and made wild and baseless claims that he could not meet. He therefore he had not only showed his hand before the summit, he had also spun himself into a corner from which he could only emerge as the loser. On this evidence, I suspect he wouldn’t be much use at poker.
Anyway, Cameron arrived in Brussels on Thursday, as did I. As Nigel Farage could not make it to the summit, I was given the ‘pass’ which is allotted to the EFD group, which meant that I could get into the building and actively put myself around to do media interviews. It was vital that I had the EFD pass because otherwise there would have been no alternative opinion to counter what was going on at the summit. The press were only interested because I was there in the building, which highlights to me the importance of UKIP being in the EFD group, as without that I would have been left on the peripheries and UKIP’s voice would never have been aired. On the Thursday alone I did BBC News (6pm and 10pm), ITN (which I believe went out on Channel 5 News), Sky News, Radio Four PM Show, Radio Five Live and Talk Sport. On Friday I did a number of local radio interviews and also Radio Four’s World at One. In terms of the print press, we appeared in the Daily Express and the Daily Telegraph. I was also asked to go on Newsnight, but as I was in Brussels, it made sense for Nigel Farage to do it, as he could easily get into the studio for a live interview. All in all, it was a massive media hit for UKIP and the press officers and researchers deserve all the credit for their hard work.
Anyway, it was Friday lunchtime when Mr Cameron held a press conference and declared that ‘6% is dead.’ He claimed that he had scored a great victory for Britain by getting a decision that would ensure the EU budget would be the 2.9% agreed by Europe’s Finance Ministers in August and not the 6% the European Parliament voted for in October.
Following the press conference, I headed off to a ‘Conference of Presidents’ meeting with the President of the Council, Hermann Van Rompuy, which was confined to European Parliament group presidents or their representatives. I was there representing the EFD. In that meeting, Mr Van Rompuy seemed to contradict everything Mr Cameron had said to the British press. It was fascinating. I asked Mr Van Rompuy, who seems a pleasant enough man, whether Mr Cameron had ‘jumped the gun’ in claiming 6% was dead and declaring that he had scored a great victory for Britain. Mr Van Rompuy made it perfectly clear that ‘no decision’ had been taken by the council and that the EU budget was not within its ‘competence’ anyway. He also said that the council merely offered an ‘opinion’ and that negotiations will start with the parliament this coming Wednesday, which is called a ‘conciliatory period.’
So Mr Cameron’s great victory was an ‘opinion’, not even from the council as a whole, but the 12 leaders who favour a reduction, which is less than half. The parliament is clearly unhappy about the ‘opinion’ and will, I suspect play hard-ball, as Mr Schultz, the President of the Socialist Group made clear in yesterday’s newspapers saying that that Mr Cameron’s claim was ‘nonsense’ and that he was ‘setting himself up for a bloody nose.’
Let me be clear: Cameron has not secured a 2.9% increase in the EU Budget and he lost on every count in Brussels. He first promised a cut or freeze in the budget, he did not get that. Then he claimed he had a decision on 2.9% which turns out to be an opinion and now leading members of the European Parliament, like Mr Schultz, have made it clear they are hell-bent on scuppering his plan. Mr Cameron can spin all he likes, but he was outplayed at the summit by seasoned European politicians who know how to get what they want out of the ludicrously complicated system. Sadly, once again, Britain will be the loser and somewhere close to the tune of an extra £500 million I suspect.
The question I will finish by asking is: how long can this really go on?