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Prime Minister David Cameron rallied Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Austria, Finland, Slovenia and Estonia behind a declaration vowing to stop eurocrats and MEPs getting the full 5.9% rise they want.
The 11 have enough voting clout to form a “blocking minority” if the rest of the member states try to settle on a higher figure in arbitration between ministers, the European Parliament and European Commission which could last until the end of the year.
A 5.9% rise would boost the annual EU budget from nearly £108 billion this year to more than £114 billion in 2011, and even a 2.9% increase would add £435 million a year to Britain’s EU budget payments.
Mr Cameron arrived at the summit on Thursday urging a budget freeze for Europe to reflect the austerity measures being endured in national spending cuts. When he realised that was a non-starter, he launched his petition, singing up 10 other EU leaders to pledge not to go above 2.9%.
A statement initiated by Mr Cameron and issued at the summit on Thursday night in the name of the 11, described the 5.9% proposal as “especially unacceptable at a time when we are having to take difficult decisions at national level to control public expenditure”.
It pointed out that EU finance ministers had already proposed an increase of just 2.9% and added: “We are clear that we cannot accept any more than this.”
But one European Commission official poured cold water on the initiative, pointing out that a larger majority of EU governments backed a 2.9% rise back in July, when EU finance ministers adopted a position on the 5.9% proposal.
The summit will end with a commitment to look at ways of changing the Lisbon Treaty to answer concerns of German chancellor Angela Merkel that “bail-out” plans to head off another Greek-style economic crisis in the eurozone need strengthening. She always wanted to strip the EU voting rights from member states consistently breaching single currency rules on debt and deficit limits.
The issue does not directly affect the UK, but Mr Cameron will resist any treaty reopening which can be interpreted as ceding more powers to Brussels.