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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cobbled together

So the EU Commission has come up with its very own economic stimulus package. The only snag being that its not really its very own at all, as doesn't look like much more than the sum of its parts - the efforts already undertaken by individual member state governments.

It's basically the Commission sticking an EU label on national efforts and making lots of noise about coordination, so that it doesn't look as though it's been left out in the cold.

As PA writes:

Mr Barroso said national plans unveiled so far - including UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown's VAT-cutting package this week... would be considered as a contribution to the EU-wide effort being called for today.

Thanks for that.

Still, there are a few things in there to be welcomed - for example, a proposal to spend €5 billion of unspent EU funds on energy infrastructure and broadband communications. There's also a proposed drop in VAT rates, with the Commission urging member states to agree EU-wide proposals lowering rates for "green" products and services in the building sector. Another one is giving national capitals "permission" to temporarily break budget deficit ceilings if needed.

But rather than actually doing very much, the Commission's plan seems mostly about "allowing" member states to act more independently on issues where they probably ought to have more freedom anyway.

I've just been asked whether the EU is a help or a hindrance for the UK's efforts to get out of the recession. It seems a bit like it can be a help, but only by undoing the things which currently make it a hindrance - i.e. by giving member states back some freedom to do what they have to do. The only other thing it can do that involves actually using its powers instead of letting them go a bit, is to regulate. And we all know what a hindrance that can turn out to be.

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