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By Peter Hoskin
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As
the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman reports, the number of MPs who have signed
up to the amendment put forward by Marks Pritchard and Reckless — calling for a
real-terms
cut in the EU Budget
across the years 2014-2020 — stands at 35 and rising.
It’s very possible that the final total could top last year’s rebellion over
Europe, even with the more PM-friendly amendment that Jacob Rees-Mogg and Peter
Bone tabled this morning.

And
so Mr Cameron will likely go to next month’s Eurosummit with his backbenchers’
demands for cuts still ringing in his ears. And he’ll also know that a veto probably
won’t be enough to satisfy them. If there isn’t unanimous agreement on Europe’s
Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) by the end
of next year, then the 2013 Budget will be rolled over into 2014 with an extra
2 per cent slapped on top to account for inflation — a real terms freeze, but
still more than the Prime Minister wants, as he’s said to be basing his
proposed freeze on 2011 payment levels.


So
if the PM is to achieve real savings for Britain, it seems his best shot is
probably a grand bargain over the composition of the EU Budget, of the sort
presented by Will Straw on
this site
earlier, or by Open Europe’s Mats Persson in
the past
. But judging by today’s shenanigans, Europe isn’t particularly in
the mood for bargaining at the moment. Cyprus — currently occupying the
presidency of the Europe Council — presented an alternative
MFF
for discussion this morning. It’s £50 billion lower than the European
Commission’s proposal, but is still over £50 billion higher than Britain is prepared
to countenance. And it went down predictably badly.

Which
brings me, finally, to the words of the PM’s spokesman earlier — who sounded
remarkably serene about the prospect of stalemate at next month’s summit. Asked
about what would happen if a deal isn’t reached, he replied, “The day afterwards, nothing. The day
after that? Not a great deal. The week after? Not much.” No doubt he was
referring to the fact that negotiations for the MFF can, in theory, continue into
next year, so nothing has to be decided yet. But I wonder if Downing Street
also has something more mischievous in mind; something captured in this useful summary by
Peter Becker:

“…many lines of European expenditure are
dependent upon the successful negotiation of a new MFF. The multiannual
programmes in cohesion policy, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural
Development of the second pillar of CAP and the multiannual framework programme
for research will all end on 31st December 2013. Without new legislation, the
European Union is not allowed to continue the programmes let alone to launch
new spending programmes. And without a new MFF there will be no legislation for
new multiannual programmes.

Thus, it’s not the question who can and will be
prepared to live on with the budgetary status quo and who will play the game
really hard. A failure would mean that the EU will not be able to continue its
multiannual programmes to help poorer regions, to improve competitiveness, to
finance European student programmes etc. Deadlock in the European financial
framework negotiations would mean serious repercussions for the European
integration process as such.”

In other words, the possibility of a British veto
might not mean much to anyone at the moment. But if Downing Street plays the
waiting game, and is able to hold on until the end of next year, it may squeeze
much more out of those countries that are currently set against the cuts. 31st
December 2013 — not now — is set up to be Europe’s barrel-of-a-gun moment.

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