Prime Minister David Cameron and his European counterparts reached an argument in the early hours of Friday morning (28 June), led by the French with Italian backing.
Cameron arrived on Thursday evening with the plan of preserving the UK rebate at its current level, as he believed had been settled in February, when EU heads of state agreed the bare bones of the budget.
The UK rebate is calculated by reference to direct funds of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). At their February meeting, leaders agreed that there should be some flexibility in funding to allow direct CAP subsidies (pillar 1) to be spread in agricultural regional development (pillar 2). That would decrease the UK rebate by around 10%.
Meanwhile the French, supported by the Italians, resented what they perceived as an increase in their funding of the rebate that would arise as a result of the new CAP flexibility.
'In this town you have to be ready for an ambush'
Moreover the French believed that the fact that the UK had raised the issue – when it was not on the table for negotiations – indicated that Cameron was seeking some kind of interpretation on the documents that was not clear before.
“It is, and I won’t hide it, sometimes immensely frustrating the way this town works,” Cameron told journalists after the summit ended.
“We had pursued this issue properly with the Commission so that it all could be sorted out and frankly it is not acceptable the way for it to be left to this last minute, to be re-opened and this sort of ambush at one a.m at the end of European council meeting,” Cameron said, asked by EurActiv how the rebate issue had cropped up again.
“I just think this is no way for an organisation to conduct itself, and I find it immensely frustrating. Anyway the end result was that the rebate is not only as secure as it was in February,” he added.
Cameron refused to be drawn on which countries he had argued with on the issue, saying: “I will not name too many names because we all have to get on when these rows are had and when these rows are finished.”
He continued: “I am frustrated I had to go through that battle all over again. But you know in this town you have to be ready for an ambush at any minute and that means lock and load and have one ready up the spout at any minute, and that’s exactly what I did.”