The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

EU budget fiasco

This story is not one that would be immediately associated with the subjects usually covered by this blog but, ultimately, money has repercussions on everything.

In a nutshell, the European Parliament had requested a 5.9% increase in the European Union's budget for 2011. Many countries opposed this - notably the Netherlands, Denmark and Britain (David Cameron being especially vocal) - which, frankly, is understandable in these hard financial times. Nations would find it extremely difficult to justify to their electorates how the EU can be granted a 6% budget increase while domestic budgets are being slashed across the board, while individual nations are being bailed-out and while unemployment figures remain high.

It was therefore agreed to compromise at 2.9%. However, as a trade-off for accepting 3% less, MEPs demanded a greater role in talks on future spending, including finding new income for the EU budget.

What is most striking in this whole affair is the political ineptitude of the Europeam Parliament and its Members. Firstly, to ask for a 5.9% budget increase in the current climate simply defies belief. Of course, as in any negotiation, the likelihood is that they demanded an exaggerated increase in the full knowledge that they would have to compromise. However, that in itself demonstrates either a lack of political nous or, simply, a complete disconnect between the Brussels bubble and the people they claim to serve. In this financial climate, any demand for any sort of budget increase is inappropriate and unacceptable to the vast majority of voters across the continent.

To ask for a 0.59% increase would have been unrealistic while Ireland (and perhaps soon Portugal) is due to follow Greece in being bailed out by the EU. To ask for 5.9% is downright insulting to electorates who feel disconnected from faraway institutions in Brussels at the best of times, let alone in the current climate of financial hardship.

In that light, to 'accept' a compromise of 2.9% while insisting on a greater decision-making role is simply naive, in fact shockingly so. It basically presented Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden with an open goal to torpedo the whole exercise and keep the budget frozen at 2010 levels. The Parliament has achieved none of its objectives but still appears out of touch and intransigeant, whereas the member States have achieved more than they hoped to while still appearing flexible and willing to compromise.

In short, the European Parliament has shown itself to be very far removed with the people it claims to represent and, furthermore, tactically incompetent in terms of basic negotiating skills. If the European project is going to make progress then we need at least a semi-decent legislative branch. This is not it.

1 comment:

  1. I simply can't get my head around this. It beggars belief that when significant numbers of civil servants are being made redundant the European Parliament - which is wasteful at the best of times - can be calling for a budget increase of that magnitude. It is, as you say, a complete detachment from the economic reality.