Tens of billions of euros of further cuts will be demanded by David Cameron as European Union leaders wrangle over how much the 27-nation bloc should spend between 2014 and 2020.
There were signs tonight that the Prime Minister’s campaign for spending restraint is gaining support. Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council President, who will chair a two-day summit in Brussels, starting on Thursday, is expected to reduce by €15bn the €973bn seven-year budget he proposed in November, which resulted in deadlock when EU leaders debated it.
Mr Van Rompuy said that “for the first time ever there will be a real-terms cut compared to the current budget”. On the face of it, that would meet Mr Cameron’s long-stated goal and could allow him to “sell” the deal to Eurosceptic Tory MPs.
Mr Cameron will renew his demand for at least €7bn of cuts to the Brussels bureaucracy through a 10 per cent reduction in the pay bill; an end to automatic promotion; reduced pension rights and scrapping special tax advantages for staff. He will point out that Whitehall has secured £12bn of similar efficiency savings since the Coalition was formed in 2010.
It will be his first meeting with his EU counterparts since he announced an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the Union last month – a move which angered some. The Prime Minister told MPs: “These are going to be extremely difficult negotiations.”
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, is seeking to broker a deal acceptable to both the UK and France, whose President, François Hollande, is keener to maintain spending and has previously targeted the special rebate on Britain’s EU contributions won by Margaret Thatcher in 1984. The net recipients from the EU budget, including Poland, are also anxious to preserve spending levels.
The European Commission said it had already agreed to cut more than €1bn in administrative costs over the period. A spokesman said more severe cuts would leave the Commission unable to do its job, just as it is being called on to do more as the EU integrates more deeply.