LONDON: David Cameron will hold an intensive round of meetings with other European leaders over the next two weeks in an attempt to avoid being isolated on the European Union (EU) budget at a crucial summit.
The prime minister is expected to visit some European capitals and invite the leaders of some other countries to Downing Street to try to rally support for his plan for a real terms freeze in EU spending for 2014-20.
Although Germany, France, the Netherlands and Finland backed Britain’s call for a freeze in 2010, Germany is now supporting a small above-inflation rise and the then leaders of France and Finland have since lost power. Cameron, who has urged these countries to stick to their guns, may also lobby nations such as Spain and Italy.
The prime minister’s talks with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, on Wednesday night failed to end the deadlock. There are fears in London that other EU members may coalesce around her proposal for a modest increase in spending — less than the five per cent real terms rise sought by the European Commission.
Merkel floated plans for a cut in EU administration costs in Wednesday’s talks at Number 10. But Cameron believes that, with running costs accounting for only about 6 per cent of the total EU budget, the move would not secure the backing of Eurosceptic Tory MPs. Fifty-three of them joined forces with Labour last week to inflict an embarrassing Commons defeat on Mr Cameron by demanding a cut in EU spending.
However, Labour also has its tensions over Europe. Ed Miliband was accused of opportunism by backing the Tory sceptics last week, a move which angered the Liberal Democrats and Labour Europhiles and worried some business leaders, who fear the UK is heading down a slippery slope towards the EU exit door.
Writing in the Independent on Fridaym Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, tries to reassure Labour’s critics by insisting that it remains a pro-European party.
He insists the opposition was right to demand “restraint and reform” of the EU budget to ensure the European project has “solid foundations.”