Britain's Cameron forces EU to apply austerity

29th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

British premier David Cameron forced EU partners Friday to squeeze the bloc's ever-greater budget, preaching austerity for all after announcing the biggest cuts in decades at home.

Conservative Cameron cranked up political pressure from national leaders for the bloc to halve a planned six percent rise for 2011 in clock-ticking negotiations set for next week in Brussels.

The Englishman held up a late-night summit on economic reform to obtain agreement from all 27 leaders that the bloc's "unacceptable" budget should in future reflect national spending cuts.

EU president Herman Van Rompuy said parallel negotiations on EU funding for the next decade would stress that bloc figures "reflect the consolidation efforts being made by member states."

The December summit will examine "how to ensure spending at the European level can make an appropriate contribution to this work."

Cameron had until Wednesday fought for a cash freeze, and actually made an expensive climbdown in the short-term by signing up to a call for next year's increase to be limited to 2.91 percent.

That would still cost British taxpayers 435 million pounds next year (some 500 million euros or 700 million dollars).

However, he built bridges with lost allies in seeking to "put a stop" to the institutional wrangling that ensures the budget keeps rising, with EU bodies and states that benefit from reimbursements being better checked.

Cameron sparked what diplomats described as a "heated" debate and linked his austerity demands to British support for treaty change aimed at avoiding new Greek-style crises.

In a lively exchange, EU parliament president Jerzy Buzek told Cameron that "if you're against six percent, you're anti-European," a diplomat said.

Cameron retorted: "When I'm cutting the police budget, does that make me anti-police?"

German Chancellor Angela Merkel chimed in: "I'm cutting the German budget. Am I anti-German?"

The exchange prompted German European parliament Socialist group leader Martin Schulz to point out that if Cameron really wanted to drive down EU costs, all he had to do was give up the multi-billion-euro rebate won by his predecessor Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s.

Ten leaders, including Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, signed a petition enshrining Cameron's rallying cry.

The others were from Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Sweden.

"We are clear that we cannot accept any more than this," the letter says.

Cameron had been out-voted on the issue in September when only seven objected to a call for no more than 2.91 percent.

The EU budget totalled around 123 billion euros (172 billion dollars) this year.

The EU on Wednesday entered formal "conciliation" negotiations, with the next talks set for next Thursday.

Cameron, who was attending only his second EU summit, is due to host Merkel at his English country retreat on Saturday, and then Sarkozy for Anglo-French talks on Tuesday.

About three-quarters of the EU's cash budget is funded through national government contributions, the rest coming from a levy on national VAT receipts and import duties.

Britain argues that other states want to see the EU budget rise because they are net beneficiaries, whereas it says London is a net contributor, despite billions returned to Britain each year under a deal negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

© 2010 AFP

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