How can it be that amid the crisis, with cutbacks and austerity in every state, the European Commission has come along with a proposed budget for 2014-2020, which increases EU spending by no less than five percent? In the context, the EU might also tighten its belt, especially when its resources come from the budgets of the member states, by direct contributions, and from the citizens, by way of VAT. Would it not make more sense to freeze or even reduce the EU budget, now amounting to 942 billion euros, instead of raising it to 1.09 trillion, as the Commission is proposing?
One would be tempted to agree with this, were it not exactly the line taken by the government of David Cameron, who has demanded a freeze on the budget in real terms. According to the British Treasury, this means lowering the spending ceiling to 886 billion euros. Once again, London's diplomatic spirit shines forth, perceiving that in the EU, negotiation is argumentation, and vice versa.
Behind Cameron's negotiating position stand Euroskeptics such as the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and the leader of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage: two loud-talking, low-flying populist politicians, whose careers seem devoted exclusively to belying the legend that the British are educated, pragmatic gentlemen who believe in fair play. When we hear Cameron say that one of his favorite EU statistics is that 16 percent of its functionaries make more than 100,000 euros per year, we may imagine that Johnson and Farage would be placated with some ritual sacrifice affecting the 55,000 employees of the EU institutions, who would see their salaries and perks reduced in line with the cutbacks going on in member states.
But it is not Johnson and Farage that are cause for concern in fund-receptor countries such as Poland, one of the biggest budget beneficiaries, or Spain, which may lose another 20 billion euros in a budget that was already negative for the country due to the reduction of agricultural subsidies (-13.4 percent), and of structural-and-cohesion funds (-12.7 percent). The problem is that Spain and others face a double penalty: suffering from exaggerated, counterproductive austerity policies, and also from the absence of the only stimulus measures that the European economy might hope for - those proceeding from an EU budget that is already paltry, representing just one percent of the total volume of the European economy.
Lurking behind the British are the Germans, Dutch, Austrians and Swedes, who are not averse to cutbacks in solidarity policies. For some time now Berlin has been suffering from what is called "donor fatigue." Germany paid the bill for the EU's Mediterranean enlargement in the 1980s, then that of its own unification in the 1990s, and later shouldered much of the cost of the enlargement into Eastern Europe. And just when it thought that the cycle was over, it has found itself looking at financing the rehabilitation of the south by means of putting up sureties for the bailout packages going to Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland.
Under the guise of "friends of better spending," the "fatigued" countries have already managed to get the Commission's proposed budget lowered by 53 billion euros, to which Van Rompuy has added another 27-billion cutback - to the desolation of Spain, which will see subsidies for Andalusia, Castilla-La Mancha and Galicia substantially reduced. Tensions are rising ahead of next year's final negotiations: if this goes on, the 2013 budget will be well below that of 2012, which will be unacceptable for a set of countries - Spain among them - who consider that the last thing the European economy needs is another cutback. This is the European Union in which we now live, where everyone is looking at their own pockets, and none at the general interest.
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