Last week, the action was all happening in Brussels. Two summits, countless meetings, media galore. The European Parliament, however, was in Strasbourg!
The mood was sombre but strangely detached from the historic events happening 250 miles up the road. Actually, I’m not sure our being in Brussels would make much difference – the current Eurozone crisis is more of an academic discussion in the parliament about whether we need more ‘community method’ rather than the intergovernmental method. One poster I recently saw was advertising a hearing for the Green group, with the title: “Never waste a crisis”!
After the Sunday summit failed to reach agreement on the terms of a new bailout fund, I began to hear something that strangely I’d not heard before: people openly talking about the demise (or at least the reduction in size) of the Eurozone. Of course, they would never dream of saying such things publicly. Heaven forbid that anyone would question the Euro project.
So, with usual arrogance and aloofness, the parliament went about its business. As EU leaders prepared to meet in Brussels, we in Strasbourg voted on the EU’s budget for 2012.
Of course, the parliament – once again – voted for an increase of over five percent. They still really don’t get it.
After last year’s 2.9 percent rise, this is just another slap in the face for the taxpayers in countries who pay the EU’s bills.
Conservative MEPs and the ECR group are both against the increases. We are advocating and voting for a freeze in order to reflect the tough fiscal consolidation occurring within many EU countries – not least our own. Within that freeze we also want a reprioritization of budget items away from the so-called ‘traditional spend’ areas like tobacco subsidies and cultural funding, and towards investment in things like broadband, research and development.
The parliament only forms one part of the ‘budgetary authority’, with the national governments in the council making up the other ‘arm’. They want an increase of about two percent – in line with inflation. So, like last year, David Cameron needs to convince his counterparts in the council to stand firm and reject the parliament’s demands. This could turn into a major fight before the year is out. But, on the plus side, if both sides cannot reach a deal then we have no budget and we continue month-by-month on a twelfth of the 2011 budget. Effectively, if the parliament refuses to budge then we get a de facto freeze anyway, so the council has the upper hand.
The morning after Wednesday’s summit, we were joined by sleep deprived Presidents of the council (Van Rompuy) and the commission (Barroso) for a report back on its conclusions. One of the few voices of common sense was that of the ECR group chairman Jan Zahradil, who told the leaders that they had merely bought some extra time by extending the Eurozone bailout fund. He likened it to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Of course, his comments were met with scorn but – not for the first time – the events of Monday night have proven him to be right.
We really must stop kicking this can down the wrong road. I continue to argue that Greece must now leave the Eurozone and manage its own economic destiny. It is not a painless option. There are none. But it is the only viable option that will prevent a disorderly default, now potentially with no government in place, and the systematic destruction of the Eurozone and all those with an interest in it. I fail to fathom how people can call themselves supporters of the Euro whilst taking patently stupid decisions that will lead to its inevitable demise.
In Brussels the group had a long discussion with the Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas, from our sister party, the ODS. It was an excellent exchange of views and PM Necas’s common sense and practical approach to issues was extremely refreshing.Perhaps of particular interest is the prevalent view amongst ODS politicians that they should no longer be required to honour their commitment to joining the Euro. As Necas said, his country agreed to join a currency union, not a debt union.
Surely there is no greater folly than a government reaffirming its slavish undertaking to joining the Euro at this time? Well, the Polish government did!
For more information on all our work, keep an eye on conservativeeurope.com or ecrgroup.eu for the group. You can also see some of our video recordings at http://www.youtube.com/user/ECREuroParl and follow our twitter page on @ecrgroup.