The EU budget ‘victory’ cheers go on in the Commons, but the facts seem to have been lost in the Prime Minister’s ‘triumph’. What the cheering Tories can’t quite grasp is that all that came out of the European Council last week was an agreed position to make cuts in the EU’s long term budget. That’s all, an ‘agreed position'. It was not a deal. Under the Lisbon Treaty, there is no deal until the European Parliament agrees to one: and the Parliament is in no mood to agree any cuts in EU spending.
And if the Council and the Parliament cannot reach an agreement? The Parliament would be delighted. EU spending would stay at the 2013 ceiling of well over a trillion euros, tens of billions above last week’s agreed position of €960 billion.
So to anyone watching from Brussels, Cameron’s victory celebrations look very odd. Either the PM doesn’t know the procedures for how the budget is agreed – is it possible he still imagines the Council has the same powers as in Margaret Thatcher’s time? - or he is pretending he’s had a great triumph as a ‘proof’ that he can renegotiate successfully with an unwilling EU.
It is unlikely Martin Schulz, the German socialist who is president of the European Parliament, cares what the answer is to that one. He is busy getting on with blocking the cuts, and – added personal bonus – humiliating a British Conservative. All that is needed in the parliament to over-turn the agreed position is an absolute majority vote against it. The vote is planned for March, Already the four main groups in the Parliament, representing 80 percent of the votes, have come out to back Schulz. To make sure the vote is certain, the groups will put into play Rule 169 of the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, allowing for a secret ballot: ‘When a request for a secret ballot is submitted by at least one fifth of the component Members of Parliament before voting begins, Parliament must hold such a vote.’ So it’s a dead cert if Schulz wants it, and he does.
But why in secret? To stop national parliaments threatening their MEPs over how they vote. The word at the Parliament is that the secret ballot is meant in particular to protect Polish MEPs, some of whom want a bigger EU budget but fear reprisals by Donal Tusk’s Civic Platform party. Schulz’s excuse for this kind of behaviour is: ‘We are the voice of the people.’
Among the other leaders in the Parliament lining up with Schulz are Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-chairman of the Greens but more famous as Dany the Red of the Paris student riots of 1968. Also Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian prime minister, now leader of the liberal group in the Parliament and founder member of the Spinelli group. The group is named after Altieri Spinelli (1907-1986) an Italian Leninist turned Stalinist whose goal in Europe was ‘the definitive abolition of the division of Europe into national sovereign states’. The group today denounces countries which ‘cling to national sovereignties'.
As I say, this lot and their allies control 80 percent of the vote in the Parliament. Backing them are the Commission elite, who have already sent out a warning to Cameron that ‘the summit was only the first chapter of the story’. Not quite VE day, then.