The drive for an expanded, better funded and more centralised EU continues. So no change there: the EU is designed as a one way street to an ever closer union, it acts as one way street, and it declares itself, in its foundational documents, to be just such a path. What is also strikingly familiar is that the issue of the European Union will, once more, trip up another British, Conservative Prime Minister.
David Cameron like too many of his predecessors talks tough at home but chooses to comply with the EU when abroad. The Prime Minister stated, as his first failed pledge, that he would block any increase in contributions to the EU. Second, when faced with a proposed increase of nearly 6% - which equates to the UK having to pay an extra £900 million to the EU in the forthcoming year – David Cameron claimed that he had thus secured a fantastic British victory in Brussels by limiting any increase in the EU’s budget to merely 2.9%. And to wrap up these triumphs, the Prime Minister further claimed to have won an agreement to limit future budgets by making them reflect the austerity measures being taken by governments across the EU. But then the small print emerged, and we see that he achieved nothing of the sort.
The dismal, any by now, undeniable truth is that under the rules of European Union membership, as brought into being, in their modern form, by Maastricht, and amended by the Lisbon Treaty, a British Prime Minister doesn’t have the effective, sovereign authority to stop this supra-national body taxing us at will. The EU’s budget setting process is a long and drawn out one and is not concluded by gathering together a number of signatures on an informal declaration and then disappearing back home after hosting a bizarrely boastful press conference.
EU budget proposals come from the European Commission, which has requested an extra 5.9% from member-states which totals more than £6 billion. The matter under EU rules was then discussed by the European Council, which consists of EU member-state leaders and if a majority under the Qualified Majority Voting procedure request that the Commission’s proposal be modified then the matter goes before the European Parliament who can chose to stick with the Commission’s request or make their own amendments to the wishes of the Council. The matter then has to be put before what is known as a conciliation committee. This consists of the members of the Council and an equal number of MEPs which will then thrash out a common proposal. And the final say on the common proposal rests with the deeply federalist European Parliament, and not with the Council of Ministers.
Knowing all this, David Cameron has incredibly given his ‘guarantee’ (yes, another one, but clearly made of some still baser metal) that the rise in EU spending will not be more than 2.9%. Moreover, Cameron’s so-called guarantee is, in the words of the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rumpuy, ‘an opinion not a decision’. An honest and realistic assessment of what Cameron has done in his first major test overseas is that he and his diplomacy have secured nothing for Britain. Certainly he has failed to deliver on his earlier pledge to block an increase in the EU budget. But the apparent commitment to limit future budget increases in line with cuts being made by national governments is simply an agreement to discuss the matter.
Yet the Prime Minister claims to have had a ‘spectacular success’ with his demonstrably false assertion that he has secured a rise in the EU’s budget limited to just 2.9%. This claim is either an expression of his ignorance of the EU’s complex workings, or, at best, shifty, ineffective flim flam. Surely, though, a man so well versed in the art of public relations should realise that making claims which he cannot deliver will at most make him seem powerless, and more likely, John Major without the Euro-passion.
Sadly David Cameron has thus far been all too reminiscent of other British PMs who talk a good game at home and then fail to defend British interests abroad. He claims to be leading in the EU, but even if the budget increase is limited to his latest guaranteed figure of 2.9%, which it will not, all he has done is agree to a Franco-German plan, then spun that at home as being his idea all along. Whether or not such actions humiliate him, they’ve impeccably exposed as a diplomatic eunuch amongst his peers. As far back as August Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy requested that the EU’s budget increase should be 2.9%. This is not a coincidence; yet as the budget setting process is yet to conclude the final figure will most certainly be higher than 2.9% and may end up close to the 5.9% mark. I have to keep hammering this point home because David Cameron’s ham-fisted political response to his diplomatic failure was actually, unbelievably, to come home and boast about it.
The predictable state of affairs we find ourselves in is that David Cameron is being dragged along by the traditional motor of European integration, and far from resisting, in the fashion of a Thatcher, the Franco-German axis, he’s somehow contrived to allow a further deepening of EU integration over Eurozone fiscal rules. For a politician who is too often portrayed as an opportunist, the Prime Minister blatantly missed the opportunity to use the euro crisis to wrangle powers back from Brussels and force a change in the EU’s wrong-headed policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy.
If the budget increase does do ahead as planned by the European Commission then the EU will be spending a staggering £7 billion on administration alone. And what areas will the EU spend this additional funding on? Well among others there will be greater contributions to such worthwhile causes as “Entertainment and representation expenses” which will receive an 85% increase. There will also be: a 440% increase in ‘Miscellaneous expenditure on the organisation of Euromed Parliamentary Assembly meetings’, a 43% increase to €19.6 million on ‘Expenditure on publication, information and participation in public events’, a 23.6% increase in ‘Contributions to European political parties’, a 24.7% increase in ‘Contributions to European political foundations’, and an extra 18 MEPs racking up a cost of €9.4 million.
What moral authority does David Cameron, either as Prime Minister or even just as leader of the Tory Party, have to agree to any increase in the EU’s budget? His government only ever pledged to defend NHS spending and overseas aid. The hard pressed British taxpayer facing increases in VAT and Capital Gains Tax should not be adding to the EU’s coffers, especially when so much will go towards such frivolous expenditure. To accept such increases in funding when the EU’s own Court of Auditors have refused to sign off the EU’s accounts because the European Union is riddled with fraud, waste and mismanagement is nothing less than a dereliction of duty. The institutionally corrupt EU should not receive a penny of money; our subsidising of the EU is already a cost too far. Direct contributions by the British taxpayer have totalled over £238 billion since we joined the Common Market.
What is telling from the domestic response to David Cameron’s budget surrender is that his honeymoon even with a large section of his own party is over. They don’t have faith in his willingness to stand up for British interests and his claim of victory has been exposed as nothing of the sort. The Conservative Party leader began losing any goodwill he had when he dropped the policy to repatriate control over the UK’s fishing waters. And compounded this when he abandoned the election pledges to take back powers from the EU and to properly defend the UK from Charter of Fundamental Rights. He and his government have further angered those in his own party who care about our nation’s freedom and prosperity by allowing the EU to take control over the regulation of the City of London. And without even a passing regret, David Cameron has consented to the EU’s diplomatic service and signed up to the European Investigation Order which allows for foreign jurisdictions to demand private information on British citizens which must then be sent.
Obviously, for non-self-deluding Eurosceptics, Cameron’s implausible credentials as a supposed Eurosceptic dissolved when he reneged on his pledge to give the British people a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty: the very same treaty which leaves a British Prime Minister effectively powerless in the face of the EU’s demands for more of our money. Indeed, one of the great mysteries of the last five years has been the cohort of self-proclaimed “voices of the Right” who also insisted on telling us that David Cameron was in fact a Eurosceptic. It might be hoped that rare outbreaks of humility might be spotted in some quarters, but I fear that’s a prospect on a par with David Cameron repatriating any powers from Brussels.
If David Cameron had given the British people the chance to have their say on the Lisbon Treaty, a move which would have certainly given him an undoubted mandate to take the UK out of the provisions of that treaty, then he would be in a position to truly stand up for the UK rather than attempting to sell false achievements to the British public with all the standing of Arthur Daley selling a used car. Those who thought there had been a change of government back in May are getting a rude awakening: Europe hasn’t changed, and nor have the tactics, techniques and tall tales of pro-EU Conservatives.
This article was for Critical Reaction which commissions pieces from a wide range of authors on politics, culture and books. The editorial board is chaired by Lord Tebbit of Chingford, and the editor is Graham Stewart