Peter Hoskin

Cameron takes on Europe

Cameron takes on Europe
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European leaders, we are told, have been charmed by David Cameron since he formed the coalition government – today, we must hope that he can use that charm to good effect. The Prime Minister heads to the EU Summit in Brussels later, following an evening of earnest phone conversations with his French and German counterparts. His plea was simple: reject a planned 6 percent rise in the EU budget  for next year. But the outcome is hazy. While our government wants the budget to be frozen in 2011, the likelihood is that it will alight somewhere between the 2.9 percent sought by the European Council and the 6 percent agreed by the European Parliament.

Which means Cameron's attention may well turn to freezing the EU Budget for the 2014-2020 spending period, as he suggested in PMQs last week. If anyone doubts the case for such a freeze, then it's worth pointing out one factoid that the coalition rightly refers to: in 2005, the entire national debt across the EU stood at €54 billion; now, it stands at €868 billion. With government departments facing cuts of 25 percent, it is difficult to justify keep adding to the €13 billion we already give to Europe. And with news that €12 million a year will be spent on new headquarters for Baroness Ashton's EU foreign service, there's every chance that this could disgruntle British taxpayers and Tory eurosceptics alike.

But perhaps the greatest challenge facing Cameron is not European profligacy, but European ambition. There has, for some time, been talk of boosting the powers of oversight that Brussels enjoys over member states' budgets – the idea being to protect against another Greek-style collapse. Our government was fine with this, so long as it remained restricted largely to the Eurozone. But now – as ConservativeHome reported yesterday – Herman Van Rompuy is calling for "deeper and broader co-operation" right across the EU. In response, the Treasury minister Mark Hoban has emphasised that the UK should be exempt from these proposals. Cameron, no doubt, will echo this point over the next two days.