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News, gossip and insight from PoliticsHome Editor Paul Waugh

Brussels Clout?

A cut in the EU budget, an In-Out referendum, the UK rebate protected: that's not bad ammo for David Cameron to take to Eastleigh as the Tories shoot at both UKIP and the Lib Dems.

Soon after 6am, the shape of a 7-year EU budget deal began to emerge from the bizarre bazaar that is Brussels. President of the Council Herman van Rompuy finally tabled proposals he was meant to present at 3pm yesterday, and it already looks like the PM will be happy.

Number 10 sources tell me that 'this is not a done deal' and there is still another tour-de-table due this morning. But the PM soldiered on through the night without going back to his hotel. There are no sofas in the UKRep delegation room in Brussels so he snatched a few minutes literally in a chair. The new Nespresso machine in the room was 'well used', and the PM also snacked on Haribo and biscuits to keep him going.

Cameron’s austerity message chimed with northern European states’ own impatience with bailing out their southern neighbours. The draft deal states it “reflects consolidation efforts being made by member states”.  Having got Germany, Holland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and others on board, the idea that he was isolated in Europe after his Big Speech is now looking less credible.

No.10 has played a clever game in setting its own benchmark for success and then coming in under it. The key figure they targeted was the €942bn (£802bn) that represents the current budget for 2006-2013. This is the ‘payments’ ceiling, rather than the overall ‘commitments’ ceiling set by the EU. That has been cut to a €908.4bn (£773bn) budget for 2014-2021. Having said that he wanted cuts in the ‘tens of billions’, that 33bn figure looks like Cam has done just that.

A summit wouldn’t be a summit without LeSnub and it looks like that’s what happened when Francois Hollande embarked on when he kept the PM and Angela Merkel waiting for an hour. In the end they had a “pretty short” chat (a whole 10 minutes) at around 1.30am. Then again, maybe Hollande is just a bad timekeeper: he kept the whole summit waiting yesterday when he turned up late.

If the 908 billion euro figure is finally agreed, it will be a blow for Hollande. He once said the ‘absolute lowest’ the French could get to was 913bn. 

Dutch PM Mark Rutte a key ally of the UK, may also be less than pleased that his own rebate has been cut from 1bn to 650m euro. Cameron, however, has maintained the UK’s own rebate. Or as the draft summit conclusions put it: “the existing correction mechanism for the UK will continue to apply”.

Another success No.10 is likely to trumpet is a two year pay freeze on Brussels bureaucrats. Cutting the ‘admin’ budget was another key British demand.

But before everyone gets carried away, it’s worth looking at the numbers that No.10 would rather you didn’t: UK net contributions to the EU are still set to rise. Cameron will probably blame that on Blair’s 2005 fiddling with the rebate, but UKIP are sure to see it as the most important figure.

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