The EU would be “wounded” if the UK left, but “dead” without France, outgoing President Herman Van Rompuy has said. His speech, considered to be the final of his five year term as European Council President, came as a new bill for British tax payers was received.
EU Auditors are set to demand a further £33.7bn from the UK taxpayer before 2020 after identifying a £259bn black hole in the European budget.
The news is a devastating blow to the Prime Minister, only days before he is due to make a speech on the future relationship between Britain and the EU.
Mr Van Rompuy played down the significance of the UK’s membership and warned Mr Cameron that the EU would not waiver on changing the “fundamental principles” of the Union.
Speaking in Paris, he said that the EU would do “everything (that) should be done” to avoid a ‘Brexit’, but it would not rewrite what Brussels calls the “fundamental freedoms” of the EU simply to convince Britain to stay.
“Without the United Kingdom, Europe would be wounded, even amputated – therefore everything should be done to avoid it,” he said.
“But it will survive. Without France, Europe — the European idea – would be dead.”
But it was a backhanded compliment to the country which is a cornerstone of the bloc.
“France needs Europe, because France can only be big in Europe,” he said. “But Europe too needs France more than ever,” he added before urging France to make reforms to fix its stagnating economy.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who once told the Belgian he had “the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low grade bank clerk” said the announcement was another example of how EU leaders are preparing themselves for a British exit.
“I think he’s expressed a common view and that if you ask the leaders in the European Parliament they’d all say exactly the same things,” he said, adding that “Britain outside the EU would be very interesting to other non eurozone countries like Sweden and Denmark who would look at the British economy following independence.”
Mr Van Rompuy did not want to be drawn in too deeply on the Brexit debate, saying: “It is first and foremost a British debate. It is up to the British people to decide.”
Britain’s new bill comes as legally binding spending commitments made by the European Commission over the past four years were uncovered.
“Assuming that commitments will not be de-committed, and we don’t see how most of them could, it might be problematic to get this money from member states to finance the expenditure foreseen,” Igor Ludborzs, an EU auditor, told the Euractiv website.
“We don’t see a happy ending. The amounts are getting bigger and bigger.”
Downing Street conceded that Britain could face increased EU contributions but a spokesman said it would be lower than the mooted £34 billion.
Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, told The Telegraph: “The EU’s ability to just grab money from taxpayers whenever it wants is an outrage. It underlines what is structurally wrong with our relationship under the existing treaties. The UK parliament should decide how much we want to pay the EU not bureaucrats in Brussels.”
UKIP Budget spokesman Jonathan Arnott called the news “another defeat for Cameron in Europe”.
“When will he realise that we have had enough of being used as an EU cash cow? Cameron once said he had decreased the EU budget but the next week the UK contribution to the EU went up. This is more of the same, more EU demands, less UK approval. So much for the reform agenda.”