The EU budget summit explained

26 Nov

Photo by rockcohen, via Flickr

By Chris Hansell

There will be no new EU budget until at least next year after this week’ s summit in Brussels ended without agreement. This will add more substance to the questions circulating in Britain about a possible exit from the EU.

For anyone who missed this the Summit was intended to make a budget for 2014 to 2020.

The Daily Mail billed this as Prime Minister David Cameron crusading into Brussels to fight the ‘£120 a bottle’ wine drinking bureaucracy. The supply of expensive wine to negotiations does seem like an extremely clumsy way of managing a meeting about budgeting.

But Britain was not alone, as The Guardian tells us, in wanting to slash the EU budget. Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands all sided with Mr Cameron. It wasn’t hard to see what the connection was. The clue came when the Guardian said the deadlock ‘highlighted deep splits between rich “contributor” nations and poor “recipient” nations.’

Data from the EU budget office

French President François Hollande stood firmly behind a budget increase, probably motivated by his nation’s reliance on the Common Agricultural Policy.

Despite the apparent alliance of convenience between Britain and its ‘contributor’ friends The Independent pointed to a level of frustration from some EU officials. In his article Andrew Grice said Britain was now considered ‘self-centred’ and was told ‘chances of Britain securing big wins like opting out of the social chapter of workers’ rights’ were seen as virtually impossible.

Mr Cameron has long been behind withdrawing from the social chapter, since before even becoming Prime Minister. This is where the possibility of a referendum on EU membership emerges. The Prime Minister is under pressure from Tory MPs to win back powers from Europe. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has said his party will not support this, and described the prime minister’s pledge to do so as a ‘false promise.’

It is worth remembering some of the things the EU does with the money and powers we cede to it. The social chapter, for instance, exists for ‘the promotion of employment, improved living and working conditions, proper social protection’ and other objectives like ‘lasting high employment’; hardly a terrible thing.

The European Regional Development Fund has provided €201 billion since 2007 to develop poorer and less developed areas of Europe, including parts of the UK.

These are just two examples of EU programmes that could be seen as beneficial. This is not to say everything about the EU is positive; its democratic deficit is something that needs to change. We just need to remember that the EU is not a bogeyman.

It is also worth remembering that of EU members the UK contributes the smallest percentage of it’s GDP to the EU budget.

Data from the EU Budget office

A referendum on EU membership is now a real possibility after the next election in 2015. The problem is that a referendum would not be motivated by sincerity but, as anti-Europe conservative MP Mark Pritchard admits, by ‘political advantage’.

Most newspapers believe anti-European sentiment would lead to a clear referendum result for leaving the EU, and they’re probably right. I just hope voters properly inform themselves about what the EU actually does first.

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