The EU budget row just got serious
by our secret columnist in Brussels
Recalcitrant member states like Britain regard an above-inflation EU budget rise as excessive – especially, at a time of belt-tightening by national governments. So the question is whether there are qualified majorities to make the change and to go on to adopt a framework in which the likes of David Cameron are out-voted. Ouráresident satiristáSchadenfreude examines the evidence
"For a Cameron never can yield", according to The March of the Cameron Men - the anthem of the Scottish clan. British Prime Minister David Cameron has several differences with the European Union, including opposition to the proposed size of the 'Multi-annual Framework'. It sets the broad lines of the European Union budget for the next seven years.
The framework was an innovation of the 1980s as an antidote to the annual budget battle between the European Parliament, which always stated 'More spending equals more Europe', and the canny national finance ministers.
Cameron regards the present proposal, which the EP has already modified, as excessive, especially at a time of belt-tightening. Initially, he demanded a freeze but later accepted that there could be an inflationary increase but no more. The President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy came to London this week to argue the case for an increase in spending but Cameron did not yield. He reportedly has the support of the euro-friendly partners in the British coalition government.
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, logically drew the conclusion that there was no point in coming to a meeting if someone was determined to stymie it. The decision on the size of the framework requites the unanimity of the member states. So as things stand, Cameron is all set to use his favourite veto unless the other member states agree to a significant cut-back. Cameron's vetoes have not always been fool-proof but this one could be a runner.
Unless. The Lisbon Treaty stipulates that the member states must be unanimous. But it also states that the European Council - heads of state and government - can decide by qualified majority, pay attention at the back, to change the rule from unanimity to qualified majority. It can do so suo moto - on its own initiative - and Cameron alone could not stop it. So the question is whether there are qualified majorities to make the change and to go on to adopt a framework in which Cameron is out-voted. The consequences of such a scenario would be dire.