THIRTY years ago, Margaret Thatcher secured reforms to the European Economic Community’s budget – including the UK rebate – which have since saved taxpayers a total of some £65bn. She defied those who said this was impossible by standing firm, defending the national interest and fighting hard on a political and intellectual level.
Negotiations are currently ongoing over next year’s EU budget and the multi-annual financial framework (MFF) for 2014-20. David Cameron should not forgo the opportunity to secure his place in history as another Prime Minister to defend Britain’s economic interests and to deliver reform to Europe’s bloated budget. In the days ahead, he has the chance to let the British public and business know that he will do everything in his power – including exercising Britain’s veto – to block Europe’s out of touch political elite, as it seeks to pillage ever-increasing amounts of money from Britain.
Only last week the European Parliament voted to agree with the European Commission and to increase the EU’s budget for 2013 by 6.8 per cent. The Commission also continues to push for 5 per cent above inflation rises in the period to 2020. Britain already makes a net contribution of over £9bn a year to the EU budget, on top of the multi-billion pound bill to business caused by red tape from Brussels. Additional costs, imposed by Europe for the remainder of the decade, would pose a serious barrier to economic growth and job creation, as well as the government’s plans to restrain public sector spending.
When households, companies and public sector organisations in Britain, and elsewhere in Europe, are taking tough decisions to make savings, Europe should follow suit. But the Commission has chosen to ignore Europe’s economic realities and push for unsustainable levels of higher EU spending, instead of taking the austerity pill. The Prime Minister should take the chance to lead the way in pressing for financial restraint and cuts in the MFF.
Although the Prime Minister cannot block the Budget for 2013 by himself, he can veto the MFF for 2014-20, and he should be prepared to do this. Europe has shown itself to be unrepentantly addicted to spending and the Prime Minister should use force the EU to go cold turkey, and to kick its dangerous habit once and for all.
As well as fighting for reductions in EU spending and reduced UK contributions to its Budget, the Prime Minister should take broader advantage of both the MFF negotiations and discussions over a new EU Treaty. Britain is in a position of economic strength relative to the rest of the EU. This is why we can be bold and ambitious in both pursuing the repatriation of powers back to Britain and in alleviating the regulatory burdens the EU imposes on business. While the political elite in Europe want to use the Eurozone crisis as an excuse to grab more powers from national governments and parliaments, we should use it as an opportunity to shrink the size of the EU to support jobs and economic growth.
Taking a tough stance on the EU budget is not only the right thing to do for our economy, it is also the right course of action to take politically. This is why shadow chancellor Ed Balls, and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, are trying to give the impression that the Labour Party is changing its position on Europe by calling for real term cuts in future EU spending. But their approach on this issue is shallow, opportunistic and incredulous. The public will not forget that it was the current Labour leadership that played such a pivotal role in the last government’s surrender of a large chunk of Britain’s rebate, and denied the British people a vote on the Lisbon Treaty.
The outcome of the EU budget and MFF negotiations matter. The Prime Minister now has a chance to demonstrate that he, and the Conservative Party, can deliver a successful package of reforms to the heart of the European project. By doing so, he will not only save British taxpayers money and support economic growth, he will also secure his place in history as the statesman that brought sanity to Europe’s finances.
Priti Patel is Conservative MP for Witham.