Leaders warm up for heated exchanges over a cold dinner
All day, EU leaders traipsed in and out of the Justus Lipsius building for a series of bilateral chats with European Council president Herman Van Rompuy and EU Commission chief José Manuel Barroso.
The objective was to gauge bargaining points before the real negotiation started. The leaders were scheduled to begin talking around 9pm but the starting point looked more like midnight, leading one wag to remark that the austere-sounding “cold dinner” on the menu would be well cold by then.
“Dozens of swords of Damocles are hanging over this,” said an entourage member of a high-level European figure. First in yesterday to see Herman and José – as Barack Obama once called them – was Britain’s naysaying prime minister David Cameron. Downing Street has it as a badge of honour that restraint is required. The approach can be summed up thus: tough on the EU budget – tough on the causes of the EU budget.
“Clearly at a time when we are making difficult decisions at home over public spending, it would be quite wrong – it is quite wrong – for there to be proposals for this increased extra spending in the EU,” Cameron said. Indeed, many of the remarks on the summit doorstep were simply recapitulations of well-established positions or statements of the glaringly obvious.
“I’m not going to accept solutions that are unacceptable,” said Italian technocrat leader Mario Monti, as if the opposite might ever be true.
The more optimistic noted that the difference between the minimalists and the maximalists was only 0.05 per cent of European economic output. But this is still a scrap about money, as Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore noted. “When you get down and dirty in these discussions there is the whole issue of the different balances that there are between different headings and different budget lines and what goes where and what rejuggling is done in order to secure agreement.”