I’m still trying to keep one eye on the other side of the Channel while following the election run-up in the UK. Thusly:
Yesterday the European Commission made a pitch for its budget, asking for 1.14% of the combined gross incomes of all EU nations. Some countries – unsurprisingly those with the biggest economies (including Britain, France and Germany) want to limit this to just 1%. As such, it’s time for another clash:
“The differences in billions of euros between these two positions are not large, especially when compared with the size of national economies. At one level, the debate is about politicians playing to national galleries, engineering disputes to deliver victories down the line..
“But there is also a more substantive clash between those whose vision of Europe is one where national barriers fall and where economies of scale are best served and cross-border problems are best solved by working together – on the environment, transport, crime, immigration, even defense – and those who are resisting the transfer from national capitals of money, and power, to Europe’s center..
“‘There is a discrepancy between the bulk of legislation that the European Union is now responsible for, the many projects, the many ambitions, and the small budget it is given to deliver the goods,’ said Guillaume Durand, a policy analyst at the European Policy Center, a Brussels think tank that is generally pro-integration. ‘There is no willingness to give the EU the financial means.'”
In other words, as we all know, we all want the potential benefits, but we’re not willing to pay for them. Germany, with its increasingly poorly-looking economy and insane levels of unemployment, is increasingly getting pissed off at the amount of cash it has to bunk to Brussels. France is also beginning to worry about loss of influence since enlargement – part of the reason for the increasing anti-constitution trend there. Britain… well, Britain simply remains as it’s always done – a tad wary, and worried about losing its entirely unfair rebate.
In any case, if an agreement cannot be reached there could be all sorts of problems which would only give further fuel to the anti-EU brigade:
“Without an agreement in June for the 2007-2013 budget round, preparing the legal bases for the new programme could run late meaning ‘these programmes will come to a halt and money cannot be spent’.
“Practically, that would amount to 40 per cent of the EU budget not being able to be used – the only payments being made would be to farmers and for administration, part of the so-called compulsory spending category in the EU.
“‘That means’ said Mrs [Dalia] Grybauskaite [EU budget commissioner] summing it up ‘direct payments and salaries for bureaucrats’.”
Hurrah! If that doesn’t get our dear Eurosceptic friends pissed off, nothing will. But at the same time, they’ll probably be fairly satisfied: Cut the EU down to just CAP subsidies and eurocrats, it finally becomes what they always claim it to be. It also makes it impossible to support or defend.
In other words, they need to sort this out, pronto – but there’ll only be a month post-election for Britain to stop pissing around (no one’s going to be stupid enough to risk an EU debate pre-election again, surely?), and France is holding its referendum on the constitution on 29th May, giving no time at all over there. A concession from Chirac to give more cash to Brussels just before that referendum will be the final clincher for the French “No” campaign. So this will be going to the wire. Fun fun fun!
In other EU news, Italy has ratified the constitution. Which wasn’t much of a surprise, really.