LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday warned European Council President Herman Van Rompuy that Britain would not accept any above-inflation rise in the European Union budget.
EU leaders face tough negotiations next month to agree the group’s next seven-year budget, with Britain threatening to veto any deal if too much money is involved.
Van Rompuy met Cameron in London at a time when friction is growing between Britain and fellow EU members over what some European governments see as London’s increasingly isolationist stance towards the 27-member bloc.
“The prime minister and deputy prime minister (Nick Clegg) made clear the government’s position that we do not support any real-terms increase in the EU budget,” Cameron’s spokeswoman said after talks which lasted nearly an hour-and-a-half.
“They reiterated that at a time when EU member states are making tough decisions on spending at home, it is not appropriate for EU spending to increase.”
The spokeswoman would not confirm whether Cameron repeated his threat to use Britain’s veto. She said the prime minister wanted a deal to be reached in November, but only if it was “the right deal”.
“The President of the European Council recognised the UK position and said that discussions would continue ahead of the summit,” the spokeswoman said.
Cameron had earlier told reporters he would be stressing to Van Rompuy how important it was “to keep our costs and spending under control”.
London, a net contributor to the EU budget, is calling for the deepest cuts but several other member states such as Sweden are also keen to keep costs down as struggling European governments slash national budgets.
“We believe, as we have said before, that we should have a freeze in real terms,” Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told reporters in Stockholm.
Cameron finds himself under increasing pressure from his Conservative Party’s restive “eurosceptic” right wing to take a tough line on Britain’s ties with the EU, with many lawmakers pushing to repatriate more powers from Brussels.
Cameron in December last year vetoed a European economic and fiscal pact to help the EU’s euro zone countries recover from sovereign debt crises that had cast doubt on the future of the 17-member single currency.
While that move went some way to placating the eurosceptics, some Conservatives want Britain to leave the EU altogether, a risk that has not gone unnoticed on the continent.
“The feeling is quite widespread that Britain is on a slow way out, or at the very best will become a marginal member,” said one EU diplomat. “Generally, the others don’t want the UK out, but they won’t resist either.”
“The further the UK positions itself away from Brussels, the more the euro area will become the central axis around which everything revolves.”
Cameron insists that maintaining ties is essential given that Britain does around half its trade with EU countries, but has pledged to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the bloc and seek “fresh consent” for the deal with the British public. He has given no timeline for this.
Additional reporting by John O'Donnell and Daniel Dickson; Writing by Mohammed Abbas and Matt Falloon; Editing by Maria Golovnina