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A case of Britain versus France over EU budget

French President Francois Hollande has set the stage for a showdown with Britain over the controversial European budget after telling the European Parliament that nations like Britain were on a dangerous path, suggesting that their demands could jeopardize the Union.

The two nations have clashed before over the EU’s trillion Euro budget, but this time the calls for a cut are backed by many across Europe. At a time of strict austerity that has inflicted hardship on millions of people across the region Britain and its allies say that now is not the time to increase the budget but instead to cut it.

Downing Street indicated that British Prime Minister David Cameron will be joining forces with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to demand cuts to the budget. Hollande was not impressed as he criticised those calling for ‘swingeing cuts’ whilst seeking to preserve their rebates, a dig at the compensation Britain receives thanks to the efforts of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980’s. Ironically Hollande is battling to maintain Frances own benefits as he seeks to defend the contested common agricultural policy that makes up a staggering 40% of the EU budget.

Hollande said he was attending the Brussels summit on Thursday and Friday looking for a compromise agreement. “I’m told that can’t happen with the United Kingdom. But why should one country decide for the other 26?”

Thursday and Fridays summit is the follow up to Novembers failed attempt to reach a budget deal, neither side looks like backing down, setting up a showdown that is sure to make the meeting a gruelling affair.

Cameron, who has won support for his position from the Germans, Dutch and Scandinavians, told the cabinet on Tuesday that spending needed to be reduced below the Van Rompuy proposal of €973 billion. The Prime Minister, who spoke to Merkel on Sunday, warned ministers that negotiations will be difficult and could take time.

His spokesman said: “The position is very much that of November where we were working with countries such as Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany because we all agree that spending needs to be reduced further. It is something the Prime Minister and the German chancellor reiterated on their phone call on Sunday.

I would describe it as very much a continuation of the close working we had at the November European council. In terms of reaching agreement – these negotiations have always been difficult. I don’t see these as being any different. They can often take quite considerable time. You sometimes need several goes at it.”

Britain risks isolation as other EU nations see Britain’s stance as an attempt to unravel the EU. Cameron’s speech in January offering a referendum on the nations continued EU membership drew criticism from Europhiles that see such a move as a threat to the Union.

Joseph Daul, the French leader of the centre-right European People’s party in the parliament, said Britain aimed “to unpick, unravel the European Union little-by-little.”

Thursday’s summit looks set to be an interesting if not volatile affair and one that could highlight just how un-united the Union actually is as every member nation battles for their own aims.

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