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Inside Herman Van Rompuy's mind

Friday 25 January 2013
I can't read people's minds, but I can read their press releases. 

A press release on Tuesday (22 January) from Herman Van Rompuy, who chairs the meetings of EU leaders known as the European Council, didn't tell us much we didn't know. Van Rompuy announced that a special summit on the EU's long-term budget (the MFF) would take place on 7-8 February, a date that had previously been reserved for a summit. He stressed the importance of agreeing the MFF, which concerns the years 2014-20, after a failed budget summit in November. And in order to agree, he reminded the national leaders just like school children, "we all - and I stress the word 'all' - need to compromise". "No single member state can have all its wishes fulfilled," as if anyone had thought otherwise.

Van Rompuy, his aides suggest, is confident that he can broker a deal in two weeks' time. In fact, some suggest that there is a deal already, after two months of intense behind-the-scenes consultations with individual member states - a deal to make some €20 billion in extra cuts to Van Rompuy's €1 trillion compromise proposal from November. (Germany, the UK and the Netherlands wanted to cut €30bn.) 

But there was one thing that caught my eye. Van Rompuy, or the people who write his press stuff, announced that the assembled leaders would also discuss the items that the February European Council was initially supposed to discuss, before the MFF was added to the agenda: the Arab spring, trade relations with 'strategic partners' and in particular the US, and Mali. 

This would suggest that Van Rompuy is banking on a quick conclusion to the summit. The November summit had been called in part because Van Rompuy didn't want to overburden the agenda of the December summit by adding the MFF. If he now thinks that the leaders will be up for a debate on the Arab spring, free trade with the US and the EU's engagement in Mali, that suggests he's pretty damn sure there will be a deal. 

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