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British PM sets bullish tone in new Brussels battle

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Prime Minister David Cameron warned on Thursday he would veto an EU budget deal unless there were further cuts, as he arrived for his first summit since promising a vote on Britain's membership of the bloc.

The British premier was in a bullish mood as he made clear that he would not abandon his demands to slash the European Union's spending for the next seven years, which caused the last summit to collapse without a deal.

"When we were last here in November, the numbers that were put forward were much too high. They need to come down. And if they don't come down, there won't be a deal," Cameron told reporters as he arrived in Brussels.

Last year, he refused to accept the trillion-euro budget on the table, despite EU President Herman Van Rompuy cutting it back to 973 billion euros ($1.32 trillion) under pressure from London.

And his comments on Thursday indicate that he has no intention of backing off this time, despite the risk of further alienating European partners already irked by his promise to hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU by 2017.

The announcement last month won him plaudits among an increasingly eurosceptic British public and especially with elements of his Conservative party who have long been calling for powers to be returned from Brussels to London.

But many EU leaders are growing impatient with what they view as Britain's continued demands for special treatment, now backed up with a threat that it may exit the 27-nation bloc altogether if it doesn't get its way.

Memories are still fresh of December 2011 when Cameron was shunned by his angry counterparts for vetoing a fiscal pact aimed at tackling the crisis in the eurozone, of which Britain is not a part.

Cameron will need his European allies to help him push through the reforms he outlined in his speech on January 23, when he made the case for Britain's place in Europe but warned that its unwieldy institutions needed to change.

His promise to hold a referendum after the next election in 2015 calmed his party's eurosceptics and Cameron hardly uttered a word this week about Europe, as he has been preoccupied by another Tory revolt, this time on gay marriage.

The prime minister admitted on Wednesday that "these will be extremely difficult negotiations".

But aides say he believes a deal can be done and insist he is not alone in demanding a smaller budget, citing support from Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, who like Britain are net contributors to the EU kitty.

Shortly after his arrival on Thursday, Cameron met privately with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Van Rompuy.

Cameron has repeatedly said the EU cannot be exempt from the austerity measures being introduced across Europe to address huge financial problems revealed by the economic crisis.

His coalition government, comprising the Conservatives and the smaller Liberal Democrats, is under intense pressure at home over its austerity measures as the country teeters on the edge of a triple-dip recession.

"The European Union should not be immune from the sorts of pressures that we've had, to reduce spending, find efficiencies and make sure that we spend money wisely, that we're all having to do right across Europe," Cameron said.

His remarks are a direct challenge to those concerned not to cut investment at a time when 26 million people are unemployed across the EU -- namely France, whose president said Thursday he would seek a deal but "only up to a point".

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130207/british-pm-sets-bullish-tone-new-brussels-battle