This morning’s posting was delayed as I was asked in to the Today programme studio to discuss the high and rising contributions the Uk now has to make to the EU.
The programme highlighted the big increase in the UK’s net contributions to £6.3 billion next year, and correctly drew attention to the loss of rebate which Mr Blair negotiated away.
They invited Mr Macshane to put the case in favour of the new higher sums. He did so on two grounds. Firstly, he claimed there would have been no expansion of the EU without our surrender of rebate. Secondly, he said the spending by the EU was very good, citing an example of a new Polish motorway. Neither of these propositions was a credible response. For every Polish motorway there are dozens of marginal projects and much administrative waste and worse. The new member states would have joined even if the UK had successfully defended the Thatcher rebate.
The truth is we cannot afford the large increase in our net contributions, and need to be pressing for a lower gross contribution. It is not just the money we do not get back that should worry us, but some of the money we do get back where the EU decides what we should spend it on. We need to be masters of our own budget, and capable of weeding out cost and needless expenditure where it rests. Quite a lot of those two categories can be found in EU budgets.
Mr Macshane resisted the temptation to say that our partners would not agree to cuts and to seeking better value for money from this big spend. Had he done so I would have reminded him of two things. Firstly, he and other Labour Ministers and ex Ministers are always telling us they have influence in the EU. There would be no better way to prove this to us doubters, than show we could have more of our way on the budget. Secondly, the EU itsefl wisely tells member states to keep their public deficits to just 3% of National Income. When ours is now four times that level, and many other member states are exceeding their limits, surely the EU must see it needs to help all member states to cut spending by leading the way and cutting its own?
Many of us want the EU to do less and spend less. Now would be a good time to do so. Why do we need a system of overseas aid for relatively rich countries? Why are we paying so much of the bills?
Click here to listen to John’s discussion with Denis MacShane on the Today programme.