The demand for a budget increase amid such an abuse of public funds is outrageous, says Boris Johnson
There are decisions in politics that are agonisingly tough. Sometimes you have to wrap a cold towel round your head and try to balance the outcomes. You might even sit down, scratch your chin and write a list of the pros and cons. And sometimes the choice is such a no-brainer that you can’t see how any reasonable person could disagree. That, surely, is the position on the EU budget, and the Commission’s amazing demand for an increase.
When David Cameron goes to the EU summit this week, I have absolutely no doubt that he will veto this package, and not only will he have every sensible person in this country — and in the rest of Europe — cheering him on, he will be right politically, intellectually, morally and on just about every ground that you can imagine. Herman Van Rompuy is asking for an increase in spending by Brussels of between 5 and 6.8 per cent, at a time when the whole of the Community has been enduring cuts in public expenditure.
You will be familiar with what is happening in Greece, where the cataclysmic result of euro membership is that GDP has fallen by 7.2 per cent in one year. Cancer patients are being deprived of drugs; the suicide rate has soared; youth unemployment is stratospheric and much of downtown Athens looks like a war zone after repeated rioting against the “austerity” measures demanded by this very same EU Commission. To a greater or lesser extent, the symptoms of the euro tragedy can now be seen not just in the Mediterranean countries, but even in Germany, where the collapse of export markets in the euro-Zollverein is starting to affect the output of the EU’s most powerful economy.
Here in Britain — the second biggest net contributor to the EU budget — we face continuing pressure on spending of all kinds. Welfare is being capped; we face difficult but necessary reforms of health care; and across the country there will be essential reforms to police and fire services. We have just seen cuts to school sports programmes — which you might have thought were an essential element of a sporting legacy from the 2012 Olympics — and this is the moment when the Commission seriously thinks it can come to the British taxpayer and ask for billions more in subsidy. My message to M Van Rompuy is donnez moi un break, mate.
The people in Brussels must have been out of their tiny minds. It is like giving heroin to an addict. It is like handing an ice cream to the fattest boy in the class, while the rest of the kids are on starvation diets — and then asking them to pay for his treat.
This is a budget so riddled with fraud and malpractice that in 18 years it has never been given a clean bill of health by the European Court of Auditors. Bear in mind, moreover, that this Court is itself an EU institution, with nothing like the resources it needs to invigilate the local politicians, farmers, business people and all-purpose crooks who are in receipt of funding from us all.
According to this toothless Luxembourg watchdog, there are at least 5.2 billion euros that go astray every year — and the proportion is rising again, not falling. The bureaucrats speak plaintively of a certain Spanish sheep farmer they came across. “A farmer was granted a special premium for 150 sheep. The court found that the beneficiary did not have any sheep. The corresponding payment was irregular.”
Irregular! It wasn’t irregular — it was a swindle. It was theft from you and me. You only have to imagine the ludicrous scene, of Luxembourg officials scrabbling over some dusty Spanish hillside in search of 150 non-existent merinos to see that they have only scratched the surface of the abuse.
There are fields that are forests that are meant to be farmed. There are forests that are meant to be fields, and we are paying subsidy for both. Last year the Commission itself confessed that EU spending on Romania — €515 million — had been almost all the subject of fraud or abuse of one kind or another. Hand on heart, said Brussels, it looked as though only about 10 per cent of the cash had got through to legitimate destinations. The EU budget will never be properly policed because the cash doesn’t properly belong to any nation — it belongs to “everybody”. And since it belongs to everybody, each individual country cynically reasons that there isn’t that much harm if its own citizens quietly loot as much of it as they reasonably can.
Which leaves it to the central EU institutions to try to police this Ottoman structure. They don’t have a hope. It is no particular comfort to learn that the Health Commissioner, a Maltese called John Dalli, has just resigned under a cloud, amid allegations of an attempt to rig a decision in favour of some Swedish snuff tycoons. Meanwhile, here are the officials of the EU Commission, arriving in Athens in their taxpayer-funded executive jets, with their message of hardship for the people of Greece. They wag their fingers at the Greeks, and tell them that they must mend their ways.
They must stop the waste and the fraud, says the EU Commission, before they have any hope of more bail-out funds. And yet these same EU officials preside over a vast and larcenous abuse of public funds, and now have the effrontery to tell us that they need a massive above-inflation increase to pay, inter alia, for the great unreformed caravanserai between Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg.
There is absolutely nothing to be lost from a veto. It may be impossible to cut the budget, since there is no other country actively proposing this excellent option. But there is no reason at all why EU spending should not be frozen exactly where it is.
The worst that can happen is that the existing budget will be rolled over, a month at a time. It is time for David Cameron to put on that pineapple-coloured wig and powder blue suit, whirl his handbag round his head and bring it crashing to the table with the words no, non, nein, neen, nee, ne, ei and ochi, until they get the message.