James Forsyth seems as happy as any Tory today, cheered by David Cameron's prowess in the EU Budget negotiations. Even better for Cameron, he says, is the idea that the European Parliament might veto the deal in a secret vote: this is ‘absurd,’ just a rumour. Even if it does happen, it will only point up how spendthrift the EU really is. All good for Cameron.
Except from where I’m sitting in the European Council press room, it doesn’t look at all absurd that the parliament might veto Cameron's ‘victory’ budget deal. Martin Schulz, the unpleasant German socialist president of the European Parliament, is looking for a fight on this. And the new powers the Lisbon Treaty gives the parliament over the budget means Schulz can do just that.
He was at the council last night, warning the leaders of the member states not to cut the budget. More to the point, he says he has done a count of the political groups at the parliament, and they tell him a budget at the lower figure won’t get through the parliament. He says the leaders of the same political groups told him that they have already initiated the procedure required to ensure that the vote on the budget is taken by secret ballot.
Yes, I know, outrageous. But the parliament has the power to do it. And far from being ashamed, the MEPs will hail a secret vote as a democratic protection against ‘dangerous’ and ‘nationalist’ pressures on MEPs from their home governments.
So, as I say, the parliament trying to veto Cameron’s ‘triumph’ is something stronger than a rumour. But if it’s rumour you want, try this: a confrontation with the Council is part of Schulz’s plan to be the next president of the European Commission. He appears to want to present himself as the champion of – typical left-winger – solidarity, which he calls ‘the key value underpinning the European Union’. If he can line himself up as the anti-Cameron, there are enough ‘anti-nationalists’ who would want him to lead the Commission as insurance against any increase of Council powers at the expense of the Commission.
Mary Ellen Synon is based in Brussels as a columnist at the Irish Daily Mail and contributor to the Mail on Sunday.