Those countries have adopted a hard line stance on the multi-annual financial framework (MFF), proposing a reduction of the European spending to the tune of €100 billion.
They view austerity measures as the harsh medicine needed to solve the European debt crisis. However, the government of François Hollande has been less clear.
“In a country where austerity is a four-letter word, France is hiding a bit”, explained a European diplomat.
Paris has so far meticulously avoided spelling out the size of the cuts needed, but is well aware of the intentions of the previous government under Nicolas Sarkozy.
The French European affairs minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, undoubtedly tried to provoke a reaction amongst Socialist parliamentarians in Dijon on 19 September when he mentioned the figure: “The previous government wanted to make cuts of €200 billion compared to the European Commission proposal.”
A ministerial source backed Cazeneuve’s assessment, saying “France was taking a harder line than the British. It wanted to reduce its contribution to the European budget and wanted to save €200 billion on the global packet”.
Under that proposal, the European Commission would have to reduce its announced €1.033 trillion framework by nearly 20%.
Many French lawmakers view this number as over the top. “The only national delegation that has mentioned the figure of €200 billion is the British delegation,” said Alain Lamassoure, president of the European Parliament’s budgets committee.
“It is true that in Autumn 2011 France joined the misers club, which calls itself euphemistically the group of ‘better spenders’. But they have not advanced a precise figure,” he said.
In the French Senate, a budgetary specialist expressed his doubts over the number: “This strategy would have been untenable without even touching the heart of European policy, which is the CAP,” the Common Agricultural Policy.
Jean Leonetti, who served as European affairs minister at the outset of the budget negotiations, commented: “France said it could not give more, but not that it was going to give less”.
“This figure is in no way French”, chimed in a Brussels diplomat. An advisor joked that it could only have come from “deep down in a windowless office in Bercy”.
The truth is not far away: “This position comes from the budget department in Bercy,” a Brussels official said, adding “it was defended in meetings, but not at the political level.”
At a time when the centre-right UMP has become the strange bedfellow of Hollande’s Socialist Party (PS) in ratifying the treaty on budget stability, the left has to be seen to contrast with the right on some aspects of European policy.
“When Bernard Cazeneuve took his up his role, it was much reproached for taking the same line of negotiation as the previous government,” said Gilles Savary, vice president of the PS general council in Gironde. “The cause had disappeared, but the effects remained”, he added.