UK presidency a dismal failure

By Geoffrey Van Orden MEPBRITAIN'S Presidency of the EU has been a dismal failure. That is the judgment across Europe. Take one issue - the EU budget.

By Geoffrey Van Orden MEP

BRITAIN'S Presidency of the EU has been a dismal failure. That is the judgment across Europe. Take one issue - the EU budget. Britain already pays too much in comparison with a country like France. We are the second largest net contributor to the tune of about £2.6 billion a year, even with “Maggie's rebate.” Given that most British citizens are not too keen on the EU anyway, it is ludicrous to suggest that we pay more.

The EU certainly does not need a larger budget: its finances for 2005 totalled £80 billion. (To get this in perspective, the British Government spends some £126 billion a year on social security benefits). The budget was designed fifty years ago for a very different Europe. It runs in six year cycles and the current one is coming to an end. The argument is now over the next budget for 2007-2013. Mr Blair has until December 16 to negotiate a consensus and his latest plan - to cut the amount of aid going to the EU's poorest areas - is no solution. The new members, such as Poland, and those on the waiting list, such as Bulgaria, must not be made to suffer for EU inefficiency and outdated protectionism. They are among Britain's closest friends in Europe.

At the very least, the EU must use its resources more thoughtfully. Over 40% of the EU's funds are spent on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Those countries that benefit most from such distortions, notably France, should be made to pay more. Even French businessmen have now said that the antiquated farm payments their country receives have no part in a budget for the twenty first century. CAP money should be a matter for national governments. Less should be spent, and some of the savings could be redeployed to boost research and development, for example.

This problem is compounded by a lack of efficiency and accountability in the EU. Conservative MEPs continue to press for improvements in the accounting procedures in order to eliminate fraud, waste and mismanagement.

The UK Presidency should have seized the opportunity presented by the disagreement over the EU budget to initiate a fundamental revision of its structure and uses - but that would have required answers to some big questions about the nature and direction of the EU itself. "What sort of relationship with what sort of Europe is suitable for a country like Britain in the first half of the twenty first century?" - this is precisely the question that Mr Blair should have posed six months ago. He did not. No wonder he is floundering and his Presidency is off the rails.

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Geoffrey Van Orden is one of three Conservative MEPs for the East of England. He can be contacted at: 88 Rectory Lane, Chelmsford, CM1 1RF or email:

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