David Cameron had lunch with Herman van Rompuy in Downing Street today to discuss the UK’s position on the EU budget. Despite the Prime Minister’s tough talking in public about his determination to veto any real-terms increases in the money available for the multi-annual budget, the Downing Street spokeswoman refused to confirm that there was in fact any mention of this threat at today’s meeting, which Nick Clegg apparently popped into briefly.
‘Discussions focused on the multi-annual budget. Both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister made clear the Government’s position that we do not support a real-terms increase in the EU budget. They reiterated that at a time when EU member states were making tough decisions on spending at home it is not appropriate for EU spending to increase.
‘The president of the European Council recognised the UK position and said that discussions would continue ahead of a summit in November. They also discussed banking union, economic monetary union and the eurozone.’
But when repeatedly asked whether Cameron specifically made the threat of a veto, or whether Van Rompuy even went through the various options on the table for the multi-annual budget with the Prime Minister during the discussion, which lasted an hour and twenty minutes, the spokeswoman repeatedly said she had already set out Britain’s position that it would not support any real-terms increases in the budget but that she would not discuss the negotiating position. Given Van Rompuy could have read this in the papers without so much as leaving Brussels, it doesn’t sound like a hugely fruitful discussion.
P.S. Kevin Maguire has an excellent detail about what sounds like a far more productive meeting with van Rompuy in his column this week, in which Nick Clegg confounded a Downing Street attempt to keep tabs on his discussions with the European Council president by conducting the entire conversation in Dutch.