When David Cameron announced that he had agreed with other leaders an EU budget increase of 2.9% , and that was that, I accused him of not having read the Lisbon Treaty. “Was he not aware that the European Parliament had equal powers in the making of the budget?” I asked.
Whether or not he has read the Treaty the Prime Minister got the politics right and I got them wrong. In the face of the European Council’s refusal to change its position, the European Parliament simply backed down.
So much for my assertion last month that the Parliament was “united and determined” in demanding future negotiating concessions.
A majority of MEPs supported a 6% budget increase by way of an opening gambit, but negotiators abandoned this almost immediately. The real battle was to try and secure arrangements for involvement of the Parliament in preparing long term budget plans, and for discussing transfer of funds between different budget lines. These ended up being shunted off into the long grass for debate at another time.
Why did the Parliament give in so easily and so meekly? Our negotiators argue that they secured an increased level of future expenditure commitments, but I'm not convinced that this is worth a great deal. In my view, faced with the option of no increase in the budget at all, no new External Action Service, and payments to farmers and for regional development being curtailed, a majority of MEPs simply backed down.
A 2.9% increase and nothing definite on negotiating rights suddenly seemed attractive when compared to hearing David Cameron utter the words: “No budget increase at all? Make my day!”