by Ray Fleming

Talk yesterday of “disarray in Brussels” (The Times) and “budget talks collapse as Cameron says non” (Daily Telegraph) overstate what happened at the EU summit called to discuss the EU budget for 2014-2020. It was not surprising there was no final agreement at this stage; there is a fundamental difference on whether the proposed budget of 973bn euros should be approved or cut back. In the camp for cutting are the net contributors -- Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden -- while those backing the proposed budget are 15 net recipients of EU funds, led by Poland. France has a foot in each side, as a main contributor but also a major recipient through the Common Agricultural Policy. David Cameron surprised everyone by tabling a new proposal for cutting “administrative expenditure” to save about six billion euros instead of insisting on his earlier plan to freeze the budget at current levels. Raising the age of EU staff retirement to 68, cutting their pay by 10 per cent and pensions rights by a similar figure were ideas familiar from Mr Cameron's “candle ends” and “red tape” administrative savings policies that have failed to achieve much in Britain. This summit seemed to show a growing respect between Angela Merkel and David Cameron and a distancing between them and Francois Hollande of France. But these are very early days. Talks resume in the New Year.