David Cameron has restated his position on the EU budget demands today at a press conference in Helsinki. Speaking at the Northern Future Forum he confirmed that the bill from the European Commission of £1.7bn won’t be paid on December 1st and the UK “won’t be paying anything like that amount”.
Answering questions from journalists he said that every year there are alterations in the levies countries are charged by the European Commission and sometimes you are “asked to pay a little bit more and sometimes a little bit less”.
But he said if there were no agreements in the meeting of Finance Ministers today in Brussels there would be “a major problem”.
“What has been so difficult this time around is the scale,” he said, saying that the subject was being discussed at Ecofin (meeting of European Finance Ministers) in Brussels and that they would be deciding.
The determined position of Mr Cameron was backed up by the host of the conference, Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb. Finland, Sweden and Denmark are also net contributors to the EU budget and Mr Stubb said that the demand to the UK was “a case of communication gone completely sour and haywire by Brussels.”
“Brussels needs to be able to communicate these charges properly” he said, adding that they should not “put a Prime Minister in front of a fair accomplice and tell him to pay €2.1bn,” adding that he was “sure ecofin would come up with a solution.”
Mr Cameron’s strong words on the bill will ring loudly in the ears of European leaders, not least the Commission President Jean Claude Juncker who raised eyebrows at a press conference this week when he said that Mr Cameron “had a problem with other Prime Ministers” on the budget.
Questions were also asked about the UK’s position on changes to the Free Movement of People within the EU where Mr Cameron has also come up against tough opposition.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview with Der Spiegel that it would be better for Britain to leave the EU than there were changes to the fundamental freedoms of the EU.
The British Prime Minister said that those present in Helsinki had “a good discussion at the dinner”, adding that while different countries had different perspectives with some countries actually requiring big migratory flows, “there was common ground”.
“Free movement is not an unqualified right,” he said, adding that there were a number of areas, particularly relating to welfare and benefits, where there are problems and that all of the countries around the table said this subject should be looked at.
“There are more elements of agreement than you might think,” he said.
And his host Mr Stubb confirmed that Mr Cameron wasn’t in the weak position which Jean Claude Juncker had hinted at, saying that he does have “allies and friends around him”.
“We looked at free movement from different perspectives” he said. “As David [Cameron] said, they are not unqualified.”
He also told journalists that being married to an English wife and having knowledge of the social security systems, saying he understood the “tremendous pressure on the education system…and the NHS.”
“This is not anti-immigration” adding “The UK is should be rewarded a medal for opening its borders in 2004 but if the UK has a problem we have to look at those sensitivities.”
But with the answers to both questions laying with Finance Ministers and the change to free movement of people requiring unanimity in the EU Council, there is still an uphill battle for the British government.
And with the Rochester and Strood by election looking like a UKIP victory, the electorate will be looking for actions, not just words, from their political leaders.