Friday, 5 November 2010

Cut the EU's budget

Should the EU be increasing its spending at a time when the rest of us are having to pull our belts in? My view is that they should be cutting their budget and Britain should be cutting its contribution and two weeks ago I supported a motion in parliament to that effect.

The last government went along with plans to increase the budget of the EU and one of Tony Blair's last acts as Prime Minister was to give away Britain's budget rebate. Last week David Cameron went to Brussels to try to knock some sense into the European Commission. The new government managed to halt plans to increase the budget by a staggering 6 percent and got the increase reduced to 2.9 percent. That's still too high but the best that could be achieved in the circumstances so David Cameron deserves credit for having forced this issue on the agenda.

My first job in politics was working for the anti-euro campaign. Ten years ago, people used to say it was inevitable that Britain would have to join the euro but no serious person today would say we should join. It has turned out to be a failure and countries like Ireland and Greece are seeing their economies wrecked by the inability to set their own interest rates and manage their own economy through an independent currency. I think it would be wrong for Britain to have to pick up the tab for bailing out those countries which were foolish enough to join the euro. Those that are now locked into the single currency must make the best of a bad job but those that remain outside the eurozone must retain the economic freedom that they opted to keep.

However, at the heart of this row is a wider debate about the future shape of the EU. European officials often appear to be trapped in the 1970s and have failed to notice that the world has moved on. They spend far too much time worrying about whether their silly blue flag appears next to regeneration projects they have supported and not enough time tackling important problems like fraud and corruption.

The truth is that EU is trying to do too much and needs to be streamlined. This is more true than ever since the EU expanded to include 27 countries. In the 21st century we need an EU which does much less but does what it does more competently. More powers need to be returned to nation states.

Modernising the EU starts with national governments and national parliaments. We need our Westminster parliament to assert its authority over the EU. In future, British law must take precedence over EU law. That is why I support the plans for a Sovereignty of Parliament Act which would make clear that it does. Once we have restored some much needed accountability then, who knows, we might even see the EU budget being cut at long last.