David Cameron hailed a real-terms cut in the European Union’s next seven-year budget as tortuous negotiations in Brussels came to an end.
The Prime Minister said the British public “can be proud” the credit limit for Brussels spending had been brought down for the first time in its history.
After hours of negotiations over the two days, the latest EU summit broke up yesterday with an agreement that spending for 2014/2020 would be 908bn euros (£773bn).
Mr Cameron said spending for 2014-2020 would be 24bn euros lower than during the last seven-year period.
“I think the British public can be proud that we have cut the seven-year credit card limit for the European Union for the first time ever,” he said.
Summit chairman Herman Van Rompuy had earlier taken to Twitter to declare a budget deal done.
“Deal done! European Council has agreed on MFF (Multi-annual Financial Framework) for the rest of the decade. Worth waiting for,” he tweeted.
Mr Cameron said the final deal was 80bn euros (£67bn) lower than the original proposal on the summit table in November, when talks collapsed without agreement.
The European Commission had pressed for a seven-year budget increase from the current 943bn euros (£797bn) for the financial period 2007-14 to 988bn euros (£835bn). But hours of hard talking got that down to 908.4bn (£768.2bn) – an overall reduction in spending for 2014-20 of 35bn euros (£29bn).
If a deal had failed this time, and the EU budget had to be frozen at 2012 levels until a deal could be done, the saving would have been less, at 24bn euros (£20bn).
What resulted was a “budget for growth”, boosting energy projects, research and development, while still helping poorer member states – all the while leaving the British budget rebate intact. “Attempts to undermine the British rebate have been made again and again recently, on every side,” said Mr Cameron. “I have fought off these attempts and the rebate is safe.”
But he admitted Britain’s EU contributions would rise despite the cuts and the rebate – because, he said, former Labour PM Tony Blair gave away part of the rebate in a previous budget negotiation, which included giving up the rebate on the parts of the British payment going towards restructuring in poorer member states.
That was one reason why it was important for Mr Cameron to cut the overall budget figure – because the lower the maximum, the lower any increase would be. Overall, said Mr Cameron, the accord was “good for Britain and for Europe too – good for taxpayers in Britain and Europe”.
The real-terms cut in the long-term budget was the first since the EU began preparing seven-year spending cycles, and he could “look people in the eye” and declare a good deal. Asked about claims that he was isolated in Europe, Mr Cameron admitted he had been isolated when he alone rejected a treaty change at a summit 14 months ago – but not now: “Nobody comes to summits wanting to be on their own, having to stand up without allies. That was necessary in December 2011: I could not get the safeguards I wanted (against economic interference in the UK).”
He went on: “No-one should be frightened about (summit) isolation, but you should always try to work with allies to make sure taxpayers get the best deal”.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “It’s the best outcome for British taxpayers and people right across Europe.”
Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls: “We will need to look very closely at the detail in the coming days and weeks, but if today’s deal does result in a genuine real terms cut in the EU budget then the Prime Minister will have delivered what Labour and Parliament demanded.”