Unofficial negotiations for the European Union’s next Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) have begun in earnest.
Back in July, the European Parliament created the SURE committee to look specifically at the new MFF and in December, the Prime Minister wrote a letter to President Barosso on the subject.
The battle lines are drawn. The Parliament wants to raise the EU budget from 1% of GNI, David Cameron wants increases to the EU budget to be no higher than inflation. As the ECR Coordinator on the SURE committee I am working hard to ensure it is our Prime Minster who is successful.
Conservatives, along with our ECR colleagues, believe EU spending must follow the same principles as national spending. It must show added value and it must provide taxpayers with value for money.
Currently, too much of the EU budget is swallowed by Structural funding. It is the single largest area of EU spending (43%) and too much of it is ineffective. The Court of Auditors has repeatedly highlighted areas of concern in the management of these funds. I applaud George Osborne’s decision, along with the Netherlands and Sweden, not to sign off on the 2009 accounts. More must be done in the next MFF to improve accountability and guarantee that taxpayer money is not being wasted.
As the second largest area of spending, agriculture too must adapt. The CAP is a vital element of the EU’s food security and agriculture can be part of the climate change solution. But to deliver on both of these fronts spending must change. I was hugely disappointed in the lack of vision in Commissioner Ciolos’s CAP reform proposals. Trying to be all things to all men, the Commissioner’s statements are timid when they need to be bold.
There are areas where the EU really can add value. Smart energy grids, trans-European transport networks and high speed broadband are just three areas where money spent at an EU level can reap rewards. Investment in research and innovation are necessary if the EU wants to retain its current economic standing. Japan, China and the US all invest a greater percentage of GDP in research than the EU. If this continues we will fall behind.
Our final battle is on funding itself. There are MEPs within the Parliament who wish to do away with the UK rebate. Conservatives stand proudly behind our rebate and will defend it. Many of these MEPs, including some Labour Members, are also promoting an EU tax. These come in various forms, VAT, Carbon Tax, Financial Transaction Tax, but we are against all of them. More than ever, the EU must remember is it a servant of the member states, not the master of them.