EU budget: Wanted - a Goldilocks recipe?

David Cameron carrying a ministerial red box in Brussels

The EU is trying to cook up a "Goldilocks budget" - not too hot for the countries like Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden who want to see spending frozen and not too cold for the countries of the South (Spain, Portugal, Greece) and East (led by the biggest net beneficiary Poland) who want to see spending on them maintained.

Yesterday's late night talks lasted little more than an hour and showed no sign of finding that recipe. One British source told me that the man in the chair, the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, doesn't have a plan and doesn't have a way to get there. The necessary preparatory work had not been done I was told.

When David Cameron arrived for a second day of talks on the EU budget he declared in a show of calculated grumpiness: "It isn't the time for tinkering. It isn't the time for moving money from one part of the budget to another."

The tinkering the prime minister was complaining about was the offer made last night to cut funds to the EU's poorer regions (so-called cohesion funds) a little less than originally proposed and cut subsidies to farmers (as ever the key concern of the French) a little less too.

Normally the way such competing demands are reconciled in Europe is by increasing the size of the pot - making the budget bigger to accommodate everyone's needs. That is not possible here, so last night's proposals were to be paid for by changing the mix of ingredients.

The European Commission's plans for an expanded fund to pay for infrastructure to link EU countries - roads, broadband and energy - was one easy target. It is clear that this is Van Rompuy's chosen approach - find a little more from that fund, a little more from administration (Eurocrat pay and pensions), a little more from here or there and hope that all 27 leaders agree it is acceptable, if not just right.

This is a problem of politics not economics. The numbers involved are not huge but the stakes are. That's why leaders are preparing for a long haul.

The Swedish Prime Minister has just said on arrival: "I am not in a hurry, it will take a long time."

Cooking up a recipe which satisfies so many different appetites can't be done in a hurry. Sadly for those waiting to see what emerges.

Nick Robinson Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    I think the ill informed comments about commission staff salaries and pensions are, as usual, ill informed. The staff regulations were reformed in 2004 which resulted in a vertual standstill in salary increases unless promoted on merit. The impact is that in recent years almost no applicants for commission posts from the UK, Netherlands or Germany.
    To live abroad you need incentives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    No97 grumpy
    'overwhelming anti - EU vote.
    The only vote we have had on the issue resulted in a massive vote to stay in, although I recognize many changes have taken place since then.
    Margaret led the Tory campaign.
    David has indicated that he will lead the next one.
    He calls the UKIP/BNP members 'fruitcakes'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Nothing will be done about the EU Budget until after the German elections. There is, as in the UK an overwhelming anti-EU vote, all the stronger because the German standard of living has been reined in to fund the ambitions of German europhile politicians.Unsurprisingly, Nick seems to have missed this truism. Post-election, Germany could well be as Europhobic as we are.Watch out for squalls then!

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    I was taught by a master ..."

    (I'll bet you were)

    "He grew up on a Silesian estate and had a schoolmaster who made him learn the names of the 321 medieval German princedoms"

    I' guessing the high point of your dinner parties must be when he regurgitates all 321 names......zzzzzz

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Politics aside, and I don't agree with a lot of what David Cameron has done or said, I believe what he said after the conference will strike a note with almost all the electorate. Whatever your political stance on Europe there can be no doubt that none of the contributing countries can afford the unbelievable wastage of money by the unelected commissioners, their high salaries, pensions and perks.


Comments 5 of 99



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