David Davis MP writes an article for the Daily Mail.
“Britain’s deficit cut by a quarter since 2010. More than one hundred thousand government workers sacked in Greece. A public sector pay freeze in Spain. Seven billion euros of tax rises in France. Across Europe, belt-tightening budgets are the order of the day.
Everywhere that is, except Brussels. There, it’s quite the opposite.
Earlier this month, the European Parliament voted to increase the 2013 EU budget by 6.8 per cent, and the 2014-2020 budget by 5 per cent. By doing so, MEPs supported their political masters in the European Commission – and ignored the views of hundreds of millions of hard-pressed taxpayers.
This self-serving, inflation-busting bonus for Brussels would force Britain to pay an extra £1.3billion next year in annual EU contributions, on top of our existing £11billion. That’s a hike of more than 10 per cent.
If the EU Commission gets its way, British taxpayers will soon be handing over £22,000 to Brussels every minute. It is time for EU institutions to experience the austerity they happily recommend to member states.
It’s certainly not hard to find savings, given that the EU’s 2012 budget is £105billion – four times what our government will spend on defence this year.
We should start by drastically cutting back the costly, unnecessary and largely irrelevant External Action Service – effectively the EU’s foreign office. Europe does not need a shared diplomatic service when every nation has its own. Where all EU member states agree on a foreign policy issue, intergovernmental co-operation will suffice.
It cannot be right to spend half a billion euros a year on an EU diplomatic service when our Foreign Office faces £40million in cuts.
Next on the list should be the EU Commission and the European Parliament. Extravagant and extraordinarily inefficient, they are a black hole for taxpayers’ money.
Although it has promised some job cuts, the Commission remains overstaffed. Between March 2010 and March 2011, the UK government cut 30,000 civil service posts. Out of the 35,000 people it employs, the EU Commission plans to cut just 121 jobs next year.
Twenty-five EU commissioners each take home a basic annual salary of £194,000 – almost £80,000 a year more than US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gets paid. Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso gets almost £242,000 a year.
And that does not include entertainment allowances, housing allowances, travel expenses or pensions. Of course, it is not just the commissioners who enjoy the perks our taxes provide. Two thousand EU civil servants earn over £81,000 a year, and help is at hand again for household costs, childcare, school fees and travel expenses.
Even officials sacked for incompetence are entitled to an £1,800-a-month ‘dismissal allowance’ for up to a year after being told to clear their desk.
For no apparent reason, the Parliament meets in two cities. MEPs are based in Brussels, but once a month travel more than 200 miles to a second parliament building in Strasbourg, which stands empty for more than 300 days a year. This pointless exercise costs £145million annually.
This reckless profligacy is disgraceful in any circumstances. In times of austerity, it is politically and morally unacceptable. Spending on government departments has fallen by 20 per cent in Whitehall: the EU Commission should watch, learn, and swiftly follow suit.
A large part of the EU is a subsidy machine – extracting money from taxpayers and allocating it to its pet projects. Sometimes it has a beneficial effect, but rarely does it justify its huge expense.
The inefficiency of this subsidy machine is demonstrated by the fact that a large number of its subsidies go to the richest nations, a clear symptom of badly focused policies. While European economies contract, the number of EU quangos is expanding fast. In 1990, there were three quangos.
Now there are 52, which will cost European taxpayers £2billion this year alone.
Some do valuable work, but others achieve nothing of note, or duplicate the work of others. There are four quangos to mull over workplace and employment issues, and two responsible for human rights. Most of these should be scrapped.
As well as the excessive cost of performing some of its core functions, the EU budget includes funds for activities it should not be involved in at all. Take cultural projects, for example. With the help of hundreds of ‘experts’, the EU spends £240million a year on cultural initiatives, including support for endangered languages and Austrian nomadic dance troupes.
The Commission admits this money is also used to attempt to convince Europeans ‘to give their full support to, and participate fully in, European integration’. Producing political propaganda under the banner of promoting culture is not a good or honest use of taxpayers’ money. Protecting national cultures would be better left to individual nation states.
Sadly, EU ‘culture’ spending sounds like good value compared with some of the other projects that receive EU funds. There was the £6.9billion Sicilian infrastructure improvement plan which repaired just five miles of railway, and actually worsened local water supply.
Dishonourable mentions also go to EU funding for a group which campaigns for ‘social justice with a focus on forests and forest people’s rights’, and to a £320million grant for a Hungarian dog fitness centre that was never built.
Then there is agriculture. Roughly one third of the EU budget is spent on subsidies to farmers and landowners, regardless of whether they are engaged in any meaningful economic activity, with French farmers benefiting disproportionately.
Some experts on Europe believe Common Agricultural Policy reforms that would see subsidies more efficiently targeted could save as much as £19billion a year, money that would be better spent if it never left taxpayers’ pockets in the first place.
The EU needs to do less, and it needs to do it better. A robust approach, more focused policies and the curbing of the EU’s sillier ambitions could save European taxpayers a quarter of the budget.
So our stance must be more aggressive: we must ensure that in these times of austerity, Brussels bureaucrats shoulder at least as much of the burden as the member states during a eurozone crisis for which they are largely responsible.”