Already threatened with splits at home, the coalition government has now turned its attention to the European Union.
So what, you may think. Isn’t it always the case that the British make waves, not really signing up to the European programme and always demanding red lines?
While this has often been true, there is a qualitative difference the coalition’s utterly intransigent behaviour on the EU budget and previous demands for exemptions by the last Labour government. While Labour ministers did demand opt outs, they more often than not related to security and anti terrorism matters.
This time the Tories, and its appears to be the Tories rather than their Lib Dem allies, are playing a ruthless hand, indulging at best in brinkmanship and at worse in a damaging line of attack which could seriously damage UK:EU relations well into the future. I doubt if I’m the only one who wonders where the supposedly pro EU Liberal Democrat coalition partners are in the EU budget wrangling.
Martin Schulz, European Parliament Socialist and Democrat Group Leader is absolutely convinced Cameron, i.e. the United Kingdom, is set on wrecking the 2011 budget. The reason is simple; Mr Cameron wants to regain credibility and support from his party, a party which moved to the right and became noticeably more Eurosceptic after the 2010 general election.
Mr Cameron is selling the UK down the river for very little. He has already gone much further than Labour MEPs were prepared to go in that he agreed to the 2.9 percent increase the European Council wanted. Labour MEPs have already agreed there should be no increase in the EU and have stated this very publicly.
However, before the budget is agreed, the European Parliament is making three other demands, demands contained in the Lisbon Treaty:
- the EU has the power to raise its own resources via VAT, levies on the common agricultural policy and a raft of other possibilities
- the European Parliament has the same status as the Council of Ministers in determining medium term financial planning , the financial perspectives, as the Council of Ministers
- there should be additional flexibility in the EU budget. The European Parliament is asking for an additional flexibility of 0.03 of the budget to meet contingencies.
It is, in fact, the last of these, the extra flexibility, that Cameron is holding out on with help from the Netherlands, and Sweden and Denmark to some extent.
However, it is Cameron who is the prime mover and the one who is doing all he can to prevent agreement on the EU budget,
Since the three weeks negotiating time between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, the conciliation process, ended last night, the way forward is less than clear. The European Commission will, we understand, come up with a new budget. In the meantime, a twelfth of the 2010 budget will brought forward each month until a new budget is agreed,
This could have severe consequences on a number of EU programmes such as the funding for the Galileo satellite and possibly the External Action Service.
The problem is that whatever cuts may have to be made because the European Parliament and the European Council have refused to make a budget, they are random and completely unplanned.
Labour MEPs, on the other hand, recognise that since EU member states are making heavy cuts, the EU itself should do the same things. The difference is we believe the reductions in the EU budget should be thought through and implemented with as little harm as possible, unlike David Cameron whose only agenda seems to be placating the Eurosceptics in his own party.