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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Avoiding the issue

Within the next year, the UK Government (whoever it will be) will find itself in crucial negotiations over the next EU 'financial framework', which will decide who pays what into the EU budget over the period 2014 to 2020.

You will remember that Tony Blair sealed the deal on the current financial framework (2007 to 2013) back in December 2005, giving up £7 billion of our rebate in return for what turned out to be an empty promise about reform of the CAP. Cheers Tony.

In order that we don't make the same mistake again, politicians of all colours need to be thinking carefully about a new way of negotiating, and what exactly we want from the talks.

So it was good to see the Tories trying to raise the subject with the Government in Parliament yesterday. Unfortunately, Europe Minister Chris Bryant wasn't remotely interested in discussing the issue. This is despite the fact that the huge problems with the EU budget go right to the heart of many people's criticism of the EU. We desperately need to start talking sensibly about what it is the Government and also the Opposition intend to do about the budget.

But instead we get:

Philip Davies (Con): Given that the accounts of the EU have not been signed off by the auditors for 15 years running, why do the Government keep giving more and more money to the EU? Surely if the Government are serious about reform of the EU budget, they should say that the EU will not get a penny more from the British Government until it gets its accounts properly audited.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that if we were to follow his policy, which is to get out of the EU, it would significantly harm British interests. He knows perfectly well, too, that, as the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, David Frost said only a few weeks ago: "Business", by which he meant British business, "wants a pragmatic approach to the EU, not an ideological one" such as the hon. Gentleman's.

Great - thanks for that.

This follows the Government's refusal to publish forecasts for how much the UK will pay into and get out of the EU budget beyond 2010-2011, following a request by David Heathcoat-Amory MP. How can we possibly formulate a strategy for negotiating a better deal for British (and indeed European) taxpayers if the Government won't acknowledge there's a problem, won't engage in the debate, and won't even let us know how the land will lie in a year's time?


french derek said...

The "hon gentleman" Philip Davies (Con) would also know that it is the EU member states that spend the money, not the "EU". And, it is those EU states (UK included, according to the EU website) that cannot fully account for where the money went/how the money was spent.

The EU budget is not about how little each member nation is willing to put in, nor how much they would like to suck out. Responsible governance is more strategic than that.

Open Europe blog team said...

Thanks french derek

But is it not precisely because of the nature of the EU budget that funds get lost? Isn't the sheer size and complexity of the budget ultimately the problem?

Clearly, member states need to tighten up their controls. But as pointed out by the European Court of Auditors this year: "In many situations the errors are a consequence of too complex rules and regulations".

In previous reports the Auditors have stressed that the EU budget – and especially cohesion policy – is particularly prone to errors because of its sheer size, complexity and the number of levels involved in its administration.

It seems pretty simple to us: the bigger and more complex the spending scheme, the more susceptible it is to mismanagement, and the harder it is to hold policy makers and bureaucrats to account for how taxpayers' money is being spent.

How would you suggest we help get the accounts signed off, given that 15 yeras of the current system has failed?