Too many scoffed at the Prime Minister’s prospects of achieving a satisfactory outcome on the so-called ‘multi-annual financial framework’ – or the EU budget to the rest of us. Last week’s European Council was a big event for those of us wishing to reverse the seemingly uncontrollable growth in waste associated with the entire Brussels operation. Mr Cameron deserves commendation for confounding his critics, and getting a better deal for Britain.
I suspect that this success is due, in no small part, to the combination of the vote in the House of Commons on the issue last autumn, and the Prime Minister’s recent ‘Bloomberg’ speech. With those clarion calls resonating around the negotiating chamber, combined with the unambiguous pursuit of an alternative relationship between this country and the European Union in the coming years, it’s not difficult to see why we were able to make common cause with Frau Merkel. The doctrine of ‘ever-bigger government’, championed most energetically by the French, can do nothing but undermine the frugality of German budgeting, as well as the credibility of the European Union more generally. As one of the select groups of net contributors, the European Union needs us a very great deal.
Yet, although there is reason to be cheerful at the real-terms reduction in the EU budget – to which I hope the European Parliament will accede – the reality is that gnawing down into the figures leaves much scope for even further efficiencies and reductions to the bloated, detached battalions of EU officialdom. It has been little reported that the budget for administration is to increase from €8.2bn to €9.4bn, which is most unsatisfactory.
And it is possible that our contributions could still increase: under the terms agreed by Tony Blair, the UK rebate could result in our paying above our share, should eastern European countries get more money.
Equally, we find ourselves cross-subsidising Eurozone economies to the tune of a further €6.4bn. And that takes no account of the €6bn to be spent on youth training – but only in those countries where youth unemployment affects more than one-in-four your people: with the Government’s growing success in tackling youth unemployment here, this is effectively, a further chunk of our cash to support failure within the Eurozone.
Climate action will comprise around one-fifth of spending, and is a priority even under the Common Agricultural Policy. Yet reforms to this expensive white-elephant are constrained if a member state wishes. I suspect that French intransigence will offer limited scope to secure efficiencies there! Meanwhile, we won’t be getting a bean to support changes in rural development, despite allocations elsewhere clocking up to France accruing €1bn, Italy €1.5bn and even Ireland €100m. And we will find ourselves spending €2.8bn more to secure grain mountains and wine lakes once more.
The classics tell us that Europa was a classy lady, captured by Zeus and raped. The project most closely associated with the name of this classy female has, in recent years, assumed the role of a truly political prima dona. Let’s hope that the fat lady will soon be singing........for her supper!