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 EU money funnel copy

Richard Ashworth is the leader of Britain's Conservative MEPs.

ASHWORTH RICHARDIf you want to know about the attitude to taxpayers of some here in the European Parliament, look at the headline its press office chose to place yesterday on a release about the EU budget. A majority of MEPs had just demanded an eye-watering 6.8% increase in next year's EU budget, backed up with an increase in excess of five per cent in the seven-year budget to 2020.

The headline was provocation itself: "'Put your money where your mouth is', MEPs tell member states". My first reaction was to ask: "What money?" But my second was to shake my head in dismay at the underlying presumption that the only rightful place for taxpayers' money is funding more Europe.

In Britain we are facing the hardest of budgeting decisions. Police officers and nurses are losing their jobs, even servicemen and women face redundancy as we do what we must to sort out Labour's mess. Spending has to be trimmed back for one simple reason – we cannot afford it. As our parents' generation knew – you can't live beyond your means. Good housekeeping, Margaret Thatcher called it.


The same is happening across Europe as national governments realise two things – that borrowing costs and that it cannot go on forever. The other thing they know – or the sensible ones do – is that taxpayers have neither bottomless pockets nor limitless patience. Against this background, there is no way we can go on seeking to fund the EU beyond its current limits. That is why we Conservatives, both in the European Parliament and at Government-level through the EU Council, are telling Europe it must stop spending more and start spending better.

The last word on this will not be in Parliament but at the Council of the EU, where Britain has a right of veto. You can be sure there will be some hard bargaining to come. As well as a budget freeze, British Conservatives are calling for spending to be concentrated where it provides greatest "added value" – for example by helping smaller businesses capitalise on the single market, by boosting research and development and by encouraging high-technology enterprises.

This is where money must be invested, not on an ever-growing bureaucracy. Commission, Parliament and all the European institutions need to examine rigorously every possibility for savings in staffing and other costs. The first place to start would be by having a single seat for the Parliament instead of trekking here to Strasbourg once a month at huge expense. (And please help us in this campaign by signing my colleague Ashley Fox's e-petition)

Our determined stance meant that Britain and David Cameron attracted an amount of invective during the budget debate. Some senior figures here are so very keen to point accusing fingers at us. But the truth is that ours is the rational, calm and measured argument and the position of economic good sense and responsibility. They are the ones using the threatening rhetoric. We will not be cowed, but will continue to resist this folly with steady determination.

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