The PM and the EU: Cameron’s zen art of compromise maintenance

David Cameron - Some rights reserved by The Prime Minister's OfficeCredit where it’s due. If David Cameron had returned to Britain empty-handed or walked out of the EU budget talks in a fit of pique he’d have been pilloried. Plenty of his opponents were hoping he’d do just that.

As it is, he’s able to boast (not without justification) that he’s successfully negotiated a 3% real-terms cut in the EU budget — to a cumulative €960bn (2014-20) — and protected the British rebate. Nick Clegg, who’s been a particular critic of the Prime Minister’s European adventures, praised it as the “right deal for Britain and for Europe. It’s the best outcome for British taxpayers and people right across Europe”.

As the Economist wryly notes: ‘The old joke is that the French get the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the British get to keep the rebate and the Germans get to pay the bill. Little has changed since then, except that these days one must add the fact that Poland also gets to keep its cohesion funds.’

David Cameron has, it seems, learned from his botched negotiations of December 2011, when he found himself entirely isolated within Europe. Though the Tories and their client press spun this as Dave’s ‘Hugh Grant in Love Actually moment’ it was, in truth, a failure.

To be fair, the Prime Minister seems to have recognised that he couldn’t credibly sustain another farce on this scale. This time round, he has invested considerable time and effort in building alliances with those who share a similar outlook to him, such as Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and in particular Germany’s Angela Merkel — including serving her favourite cake, according to the Telegraph’s James Kirkup (Donauwellen, “a heavy custard-and-cherry cake named after the waves in the Danube”, since you ask).

It is this bridge-building which has paid off, rather than the obligatory foot-stamping forced on Mr Cameron by his excitable and truculent Europhobic backbenchers. It’s no coincidence that Germany has also got exactly what it had always wanted from these negotiations: a budget just below 1% of GNI.

Of course, the EU budget remains deeply imperfect. The Common Agricultural Policy and its subsidies for rich farmers remains, swallowing close to 40% of the entire budget for the next seven years. Plenty of other pork has been scraped from the barrel to secure agreement from the 27 EU nations. But that’s the nature of compromise, something David Cameron has had to buy into in his diplomacy both in the Coalition and the EU.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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13 Comments

  • Richard Dean 9th Feb '13 - 12:26pm

    Where does zen come into it?

    Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism. It claims to involve dropping illusion and seeing things without distortion created by your own thoughts . http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=zen . One of its impossible puzzles is that, if everything is illusion, how would we know?

    Or is he now fixing motorcycles?

  • Helen Tedcastle 9th Feb '13 - 2:06pm

    @ Richard Dean: Quite. There seems to be a confusion in the mind of the writer between the art of compromise in political negotiations and the intuition of consciousness or direct seeing, which is Zen. I’m afraid if we were to compare David Cameron’s political intuitions with Zen, we could only describe him as a dualistic thinker, self-interested (for the UK), who is about as far away from Zen consciousness as it is possible to get!

    At this point I could make a comment about the Education Secretary but for once, I’ll refrain!

  • Lets hope that the MEP’s continue to show they are up to the task and use their powers to vote this budget reduction through…
    Reading what some of the socialist MEPs are saying you would of thought the changes to the budget were 33% not 3.3% …

  • Stephen Donnelly 9th Feb '13 - 5:46pm

    @Roland. Why should they vote down the reduction in the budget ? Is increased expenditure a good thing in itself ? Times are hard, you know.

  • Agriculture is the only policy area which is entirely run by the EU at EU level. It is therefore perfectly natural that it takes a large proportion of the EU budget. It’s the only thing the EU actually does. Please stop misleadingly quoting the percentage as though it tells us something terrible.

  • Helen Tedcastle 9th Feb '13 - 7:10pm

    @ Joe: :-)

  • @Stephen
    Totally agree, but the President of the Parliament Martin Schulz, seems to be totally against it – and is likely to ask his followers (the socialist group) to declare a secret ballot – given this group has approximately 180 members it is likely that they will succeed in getting a secret vote. But whether they have sufficient sway to win the vote …

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 1:11pm

    I bet every single leader has claimed in his or her domestic press to have been the leading force behind achieving the “success” of the reduced budget!

  • David Pollard 10th Feb '13 - 8:09pm

    Looks like Nick Clegg’s part in the Cameron success is below the radar. My guess is that after the veto last time, Nick explained that to get what you want in the EU there has to be negotiation. The main problem for me in this deal is that the CAP is hardly affected, whereas R&D, infrastructure and regional funding have taken bigger cuts. Goven the circumstances this is probably the best deal Cameron could have got. Its the first time the community budget has been cut and the first time that the Germans and French have not stiched up negotiations beforehand.
    All we want now is for the Euronuts to come down hard on Cameron for allowing the British contribution to go up. I’m sure we can rely on them!

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