Is Lord Hill right that everyone should calm down about the £1.7bn EU surcharge row?

Lord Hill, the new EU commissioner for financial services

Alisdair McIntosh, director of Business for New Europe, says Yes.

Lord Hill says that “the sensible thing now is to try to calm the situation down, and to look at the facts and look at a practical solution”. He’s right.

The £1.7bn looks very different in context. It reflects adjustments over more than a decade, and should be considered alongside the economic benefits of EU membership, which dwarf it.

The Single Market brings us increased trade, investment and other advantages worth between £62bn and £78bn a year. And it’s vital that member states follow the agreed rules. It feels harsh, but if states can break rules, chaos will ensue and we will ultimately suffer. Each year, these rules bring us our rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher, which is far greater than £1.7bn.

Finally, the UK needs to work with other states to reform the EU, to make it more efficient and benefit our economy even more. To do that, we need a reputation for working calmly. Lord Hill recognises this, and is showing leadership by publicly calling for calm.

Ruth Lea, economic adviser to the Arbuthnot Banking Group, says No.

The extra £1.7bn on the UK’s EU contribution demanded by the Commission has rightly caused outrage. And the Prime Minister is right to explore all avenues to try to reduce the surcharge. Three factors make the demand all the more outrageous.

First, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) declined this week to sign off the accounts for the twentieth year running. Almost €7bn (£5.47bn) of the EU’s budget was improperly paid out in 2013. Second, the ONS’s Pink Book recently reminded us that our net contribution to the EU rose by a third last year to £11.3bn. It was £3.2bn in 2003, and £2.2bn in 2004. Third, France and Germany (the EU’s powerhouse) face reductions to their bills, while we are asked to pay more.

A little anger seems in order.

I appreciate Lord Hill is in a difficult place – torn between his homeland and the need to be a “collegiate”, loyal commissioner. But appeals for “calm”, reasonable though they sound, do little to ameliorate a difficult situation.

Related articles