BRITISH Prime Minister David Cameron accused Brussels of living in a “parallel universe” after European leaders failed to bridge deep differences between richer and poorer countries over how to spend nearly a trillion euros.
Budget talks collapsed yesterday with no agreement and little progress after two days of increasingly frustrated talks left the 27 leaders having to try again in the new year.
“The deal on the table was just not good enough,” Mr Cameron said after an alliance of Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden demanded cuts of 30 billion euros from a proposed seven-year budget of 940 billion euros.
Against them, France, Italy and Poland were leading a push for more spending on farm subsidies and in poorer regions, as well as an end to the British rebate. President Hollande said that France could not accept Britain’s refusal to agree a cut in its 3.6 billion-euro rebate while demanding savings elsewhere. Mr Cameron defended his position as “completely justified; indeed it’s essential”.
But Mr Hollande was left on the defensive after finding himself at odds with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, breaking the core partnership that has driven EU decision-making for decades.
Personal recriminations were kept to a minimum as all leaders accepted that public mud-slinging would make any eventual deal harder to achieve. Mr Hollande conceded that Mr Cameron had not threatened to use the veto he wielded 12 months ago. “No one made any ultimatums or threats,” he said.
But Mr Cameron turned his anger on the European Commission and associated Brussels machinery for fighting to protect the pay and perks of eurocrats and refusing to offer savings in the 56 billion-euro administration budget.
“Brussels continues to exist as if it’s in a parallel universe,” Mr Cameron said. “EU institutions simply have to adjust to the real world. Last night the commission didn’t offer a single euro in savings. Not one euro – insulting to European taxpayers.”
His comments were a sharp dig at commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who has been at the side of Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council President and summit host, throughout. Mr Cameron arrived in Brussels with a detailed critique of the earnings, pension entitlements and tax allowances of Brussels employees.
Mr Van Rompuy was criticised for engineering proceedings so that the 27 leaders only sat around a table for little more than an hour late on Thursday night and four hours yesterday. The rest of the time involved Mr Van Rompuy seeing leaders individually as he tried to broker a deal.
“He’s brought 27 important people here and nothing has happened,” one diplomat said. At times the pace of talks was so slow that Mr Cameron twice slipped out of the summit building to eat at local brasseries while waiting for round-table talks to convene.
Mr Cameron may not have had to use his veto, but he did claim credit for saying no to the deal on the table. “We stopped what would have been an unacceptable deal,” he said. “The deal on the table was just not good enough. It wasn’t good enough for Britain, neither was it good enough for a number of other countries. We are not going to be tough in the Budget at home just to sign up to bigger increases in European spending.”
The developments in Brussels came as Grant Shapps, the Conservative Party chairman, urged the Prime Minister to use the threat of Britain leaving the EU as a way of repatriating swaths of Brussels law. Mr Shapps said that Mr Cameron “shouldn’t feel shy about our options” as he looks to renegotiate a looser relationship between the Government and Europe.
He also said that a new Tory government could hold a swift referendum after the 2015 election as a way of empowering Mr Cameron to bring home a list of employment, criminal and social justice powers. There was a “mainstream” national consensus for removing the EU from “every nook and cranny of everyday life” and recasting the relationship so that it was based on free trade, he said.
Mr Cameron insisted that he wanted to remain in the EU but that the status quo had to change. “There are parts of the relationship with Europe that we don’t think are working properly and we do think there’s an opportunity for a new settlement and consent for that.”