Thursday, 1 November 2012

Cutting the EU budget

This week saw the thorny issue of EU spending stumble back on the agenda with the moment for negotiations over the future EU budget fast approaching but with EU member states getting further away from any kind of consensus.

It really shouldn’t be that difficult. Every EU country is having to make swingeing cuts to public spending in order to deal with the mountain of debt accumulated over the last decade and to tackle the economic crisis caused by the crackpot idea that is known as the euro. You might think that, since its own policies have contributed to the mess that Europe is in, the EU might have a bit of humility, that they might empathise with the pain being experienced by Europe’s people and might therefore recognise that they, too, must pull in their belt and show some restraint.

Not a bit if it. Instead, the European Commission opened discussions by suggesting a staggering seven percent increase in their budget. Two years ago, David Cameron put his foot down and led a group of EU leaders calling for a real terms cut or, at the very least, a freeze in the EU budget. He managed to get the support of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, the President of France and the Prime Ministers of Finland and Holland. Later, other countries joined in this principled position including Sweden.

However, then the horse trading started and some of the countries who initially supported Britain in controlling the EU budget started to go wobbly. The worst offender was Angela Merkel who has now abandoned her stance and has decided that caving in on the EU budget might gain her leverage over some of the poorer member states in other areas of policy. Such counterproductive horse trading is a major weakness in the EU which means it frequently makes serious mistakes because shady, backroom deals eclipse any intelligent or reasoned debate. That is why eventually, if it is to survive, the EU must be streamlined and modernised with many of its powers stripped away and returned to national governments.

The good news is that, in the short term, Britain has a veto over the EU budget and can put its foot down and block any new inflation busting increases. If this happens there is then automatically a real terms freeze in the budget followed by a painstaking process of agreeing individual items in the budget one line at a time. Once again, it looks like it will fall to Britain to show leadership and risk unpopularity with other leaders by knocking heads together in order to sort things out and deliver what is right for the people of both Britain and Europe. David Cameron has done it before and he should do it again.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.