By Matthew Barrett
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Today in Strasbourg, the European Parliament adopted proposals to increase the EU budget, introduce a financial transaction tax, abolish national rebates, impose direct EU taxes and end the returning of unspent EU money to national governments.
The European Parliament set out its priorities for the next seven-year budget plan, known as the "multi annual financial framework" (MFF). Although the EU works on annual budgets, the budgets are set within the longer-term MFF. Current debates concern the next MFF, which will be in operation 2014-2020.
The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, of which the Conservative Party is the largest party, voted against the proposals. There were, in total, 468 votes in favour and 134 against. Labour and UKIP also voted against the proposals, with the Lib Dems a mixture of for and abstaining. Edward McMillan-Scott, who was elected as a Conservative in 2009 before defecting to the Lib Dems, voted for the proposals.
The ECR put down an amendment to the proposals, which said:
Is therefore of the firm opinion that freezing the next MFF at the 2013 level, as demanded by some Member States, is a viable option; welcomes the letter from the five Heads of Government – those of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland – and shares the opinion that commitment appropriations over the next multiannual financial framework should not exceed the 2013 level, with a growth rate below the rate of inflation
This amendment was defeated by 540 votes to 104, with Labour MEPs voting for the amendment, UKIP against, and the Lib Dems divided between abstaining and voting against it. Edward McMillan-Scott voted against the amendment.
The letter referenced in the amendment above was submitted jointly to the European Commission by the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Finland, and the Netherlands, and stated that the next MMF should reflect the efforts by national governments to bring their spending under control.
Richard Ashworth MEP, a Conservative for South East England, commented:
"One day national governments are being told by Brussels to cut their deficits and the next they're being asked to pay tens of billions more to the EU. National governments, local authorities and households are having to set priorities on their spending yet MEPs categorically refuse to do the same. This committee has been a massive missed opportunity and once again MEPs have scored an own goal in the court of public opinion."
On the floor of the European Parliament, the former Belgian Prime Minister, and now head of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group, Guy Verhofstadt, launched an attack on the British government. He said that savings could be made in the British public sector by increasing the role of the European Union. But what is significant about his attack on the British government is that his European group – the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe – not only contains the Liberal Democrats, but the Lib Dems are actually the joint-largest party in the group (along with the Free Democrats, who are junior coalition partners to Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats in Germany).