U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has been “hitting the phones” to fellow leaders to rally support for an European Union budget freeze before negotiations at a Brussels summit this week.
Cameron spent the weekend calling his counterparts in France, Germany, Holland, Sweden and Denmark, all net contributors to the budget, urging them to back his call for a real-terms freeze in 2014-2020. He also spoke to Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, whose country gains most from EU spending. More calls are planned, Cameron’s spokeswoman Vickie Sheriff told reporters in London today.
“We believe that we can all agree on the right deal,” Sheriff said. “They are tough negotiations but we have to find an agreement on the way to spend this money.”
While British officials say they’re working hard on securing a deal at the summit that begins Nov. 22, the premier, who needs to placate euroskeptic lawmakers in his own Conservative Party who are demanding a cut in spending, kept up recent anti-EU rhetoric in public today. He said the 27-nation bloc needs to stop “picking the pockets” of a British public suffering from austerity measures at home.
“I don’t think it makes you a bad European because you want a tough budget settlement in Europe,” Cameron told the Confederation of British Industry’s annual conference in London. “One of the interesting things about the proposals so far in this debate about the EU budget is how little attention there has been on the central costs of the EU, the commission budget, what people get paid.”
EU President Herman Van Rompuy is proposing to cut the bloc’s budget to 973 billion euros ($1.24 trillion), lower than the EU Commission’s proposal of 1.03 trillion euros and the figure for the previous seven-year period of 994 billion euros.
A spokeswoman for Cameron described the new figure as a welcome downward trajectory, adding that there is scope for further reductions such as cutting the number of EU civil servants.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, described the budget talks today as “very difficult.”
“Germany will undertake the greatest effort at the council meeting this week to work for a reasonable result,’’ Seibert told reporters in Berlin. “If that works, it would be very good. If it turns out that Europe needs a bit more time, that wouldn’t be bad either.”
One option under consideration is for the other 26 countries to work out a budget plan on their own, then give the British a few months to think it over, French officials said last week.
Cameron is under pressure at home, both from his own lawmakers and the opposition Labour Party, to show he’s standing up for British interests abroad. London Mayor Boris Johnson, who has repeatedly refused to rule himself out a future challenger for the Tory leadership, called on Cameron to emulate former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
“It is time for David Cameron to put on that pineapple- colored wig and powder-blue suit, whirl his handbag round his head and bring it crashing to the table with the words no, non, nein, neen, nee, ne, ei and ochi, until they get the message,” Johnson wrote in his Daily Telegraph newspaper column today.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said today that Britain risks “sleepwalking” toward an exit from the EU with devastating economic costs. He told the CBI conference the bloc must be overhauled to make it work, EU spending needs to focus on growth and changes are needed in areas such as immigration rules.
“Too many have turned a blind eye to these failings, believing their understandable real passion for the case for Britain being in Europe should mean a passionate defense of the institutions of the European Union,” he said. “The answer is not just to make the same old case for the European Union more loudly. We need to argue the case in a new way, not simply assume it as an article of faith.”
More than 50 Tory lawmakers joined forces with Labour on Oct. 31 to demand a real-terms EU budget cut. Cameron insists a freeze is more realistic and has vowed to veto any deal that he finds unacceptable.
An opinion poll found that more than half of British voters would vote to leave the EU if a referendum was held. Fifty-six percent said they want the U.K. to go it alone, while 30 percent want to remain in the EU, the Opinium Research survey for yesterday’s Observer newspaper showed. Opinium questioned 1,957 adults between Nov. 13 and Nov. 15.
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