Thursday, 1 November 2012

Our politicians can't stop the EU budget rising

Amid the entertaining political theatre of yesterday's EU budget vote lies a far more fundamental debate than whether the amount Britain's pays into the EU budget should be frozen or cut. 

A debate that will soon come much more to the fore.

Much of the Westminster Village reaction to the government's defeat in Parliament last night by 13 votes is inevitably rotating around whether David Cameron is in control of his party; whether he will wield his veto to block a rise in the EU budget; whether Labour will support that veto and what will happen if the Prime Minister tries to secure MPs' approval for a deal that does not involve a budget cut.

Throw in some simplistic comparisons to John Major's Maastricht woes in the early 1990s and a mixture of the above is what the political commentariat are serving up for today's consumption.

But all that is a side show. Sure, a bit of discomfort for David Cameron and the fate of a few billion pounds rests on one option or another and the Democracy Movement, more than most, wants to see Britain's payments to the EU cut - in fact, far more dramatically than anything currently being considered.

Back in 2005, when the EU's last 2007-2014 Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) was being debated, the DM launched its Stop the Cheques campaign, contrasting the cost of the EU with various cuts being made then to public services (see campaign postcards pictured above). A theme that is today, thanks partly I'm sure to our efforts making the case to MPs over the years since - but no doubt mostly due to the subsequent financial and debt crisis - a very strong aspect of debate on the subject among MPs across the party divide.

Impossible freeze  

No, the real punch to today's events will be delivered when the EU meets to hammer out a deal on the EU budget on 22-23 November.

For David Cameron to deliver his policy he must very likely veto an EU deal, but even then the EU budget will continue to rise with inflation anyway. It is certainly beyond his power to deliver Parliament's view that there should be real-terms cuts, as demonstrated by yesterday's vote. 

Then, or soon after, all the current chatter about EU budget vetoes, freezes and cuts will be shown to have been pointless. The various positions over which our Goverment (freeze or veto), Labour opposition (cut but no veto) and Parliament (real terms cut) have so publicly clashed this week will be revealed as a total waste of time due to the nature of the brave, new, post-democratic EU in which we are currently embroiled.

Pointless veto 

The domestic democratic agony we have just witnessed will have served only make more glaring the reality: It is actually impossible to freeze, and certainly to cut, the EU budget. There is nothing our Government or Parliament can do - even if working in unison - to stop the amount we hand over to the EU rising without completely re-writing our treaty links.

Seventeen of the EU's twenty seven member countries are net recipients from the EU budget, changes to which must be agreed unanimously. If no agreement is reached, the budget reverts to a cut-and-paste, year-by-year agreement with an in-built increase in line with inflation.

It is blatantly in the interest of the vast majority of net recipient countries to block any attempt to freeze the EU budget and certainly to cut it since, if unanimous agreement is not reached, the budget rises anyway.

The system is loaded in favour of the budget recipients and a perpetual increase. Both our Government and Parliament will be shown to be completely impotent, their views on the changes that should be made to the budget over-ruled and self-serving EU treaty clauses enacted to keep public cash flowing to Brussels at an ever-increasing level.

Real question

Our financial exposure to the EU will be demonstrably out of control, regardless of the cuts being suffered by public services. Our democratic institutions powerless to secure change. So what then? What does this say about democracy in today's EU-dominated Europe and is that powerlessness a future we wish to pursue?

Thanks to the brilliant work yesterday by MP Mark Reckless and supporters of his amendment, this is the far more fundamental question that will shortly hit home about Britain's relationship with the EU than would have hit the headlines through any fleeting debate about whether we should hand over a bit more, or a bit less, cash.

The soon-to-be-apparent real achievement of yesterday's events will be to have highlighted to a fuller extent the nature of the increasingly post-democratic state in which EU member countries are currently confined. 

So bring on the EU summit later this month and the start of the real debate - about how to secure a more democratic future for Britain and hopefully Europe too.

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