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Blair talked tough on UK rebate THE DOORMAT OF EUROPE
"Tony Blair began his EU Presidency as a tiger... and has ended up a doormat." observed German Sunday paper, Welt am Sonntag (18.12.05) after Tony Blair's cave in over UK budget contributions at the weekend's European Council meeting. It wasn't totally unexpected. 'Blair will not give on UK Rebate - Yet' predicted a BBC News feature in June.

On 8.6.05, he told MPs: "The UK rebate will remain and we will not negotiate it away. Period." (The word "away" implied willingness to consider changes in the size of, or formula for, setting the rebate).

For months, Blair wobbled from stance to stance, claiming that there would be no concession without fundamental CAP reform, but also that if there was "a fundamental review of how Europe spends its money then of course everything then is open to debate".

The tough talk ended in a climbdown as many continental leaders insisted that the CAP payments agreed in 2002 must be honoured. Shame that there was a collective 'memory loss' as to another EU leaders' agreement on budget contributions and EU enlargement.

The Technical Annex ('Vol II') to a Commission internal report dated 14.7.04, COM(2004) 505 final, noted on p.20:
"Although the envisaged enlargement to 10 new Members States was unanimously agreed at the Berlin European Council in March 1999, the UK insisted and obtained that enlargement-related expenditure be taken into account when calculating the UK correction ["rebate"], thus shielding it from most of the financial consequences of enlargement. .

Therefore Blair misled us when he justified the surrender of the British rebate on the grounds that Britain should help pay for "the costs of enlargement". His Statement to the Commons (19.12.05) claimed that it was 'essential', and would have been "a betrayal of everything that Britain has rightly stood for" not to have paid up!

The EUR 10.5Bn extra money we're paying in from 2007-2013 is not ring-fenced for the newcomers, but goes into a pool that will cover various EU purposes, such as "administration" and propping up the various leaky EU initiatives that give it the conceit of being 'a world power' while many of its members' economies are suffering under EU policies.

The key document is: 'Financial Perspectives 2007-2013' . A quick check on five budget headings reveals plans to spend over EUR 30Bn extra from the pool. President Chirac got it right when he called it: "...a good deal for Europe, which provides sufficient means to finance its ambitions". (EUObserver site, 17/12/05).

EU plans to tax us directly After the Budget cave-in, European Commission President Barroso further angered taxpayers by suggesting that the EU should be directly funded by the 'citizens of Europe' without the need for governmental wrangling. (FT, 19.12.05; D. Express, 21.12.05).

Nothing new there. COM(2004) 505 final proposes options. It seems to build on another 2004 European Commission policy paper (PDF).

Click for our review of 'Tax based EU own resources: An assessment'

Footnotes: Former Chancellor Norman (now Lord) Lamont warned the April 1995 CIB public meeting at Westminster Hall that the real cost of the EU was nearer to the gross cost, as the money we get back from the EU (apart from the rebate) goes on the things that the EU wants. To ignore that would be like claiming that the rate of UK income tax was 2p in the Pound, as for every 25p in tax raised, the government 'gave back' 23p in public services.

In many cases we have to match EU programme funding with UK taxpayers' money, which makes the 'benefits' more expensive and even more dubious.

It must be remembered that the 'Financial Perspectives' are just a model, and there can be several adjustment factors (e.g. exchange rates, the EU's GNI 'wealth' and PPS 'purchasing power' measures, further enlargement and even changes to satisfy the European Parliament).

The BBC has reported that the exact rebate correction can take four years to come through.

However in very broad terms, the BBC noted that over 2007-2013, UK [net] contributions were due to rise to 42bn ('increase by 63%').

The Times (4.4.05) revealed the UK EU budget contribution was set to rise to 4.3 Bn in 2005.

Comment on UK 2005 Budget.

Luxembourg votes

On 8.12.05, Guardian Technology reported on a perceived move towards a pan-European ID card. Apparently, Britain's minister for 'e-Government', Jim Murphy, spent a press conference denying any EU plan to introduce ID cards, claiming it's a matter for national governments. Unfortunately, he seemed to be launching a document saying the opposite - his November EU conference in Manchester outlined "ambitious targets" for 'electronic identifications' to access services.

Author Michael Cross noted that Austria's EU Presidency in 2006 will continue the UK's moves to promote 'electronic government' using smart/ID cards.

We note that 2008 has been mooted as the target date for 'EU health insurance cards', which is both the date HMG wanted for rollout of smart/ID cards and the full coming into force of the EU Citizenship Directive, governing population movement rights.

Also note the EU Hague Programme's intention of "a swift abolition of internal border controls.... as soon as possible after 2007". By pure coincidence ID cards are being touted as an EU 'internal passport'.

(Any money on an EU-wide database to hold our identities, using harmless-sounding 'healthcare' as the excuse to set up what looks like an embryo EU population register? 2006 will see the standardising of 'patient identifier' data).

We have also seen Home Office correspondence of 11.11.05 giving a clue to EU inspiration behind UK moves towards ID cards. It noted: "The use of a civil financial penalty to enforce a scheme is in line with other European schemes".

More EU connections

In an article 'Big Brother Goes Global', Tony Bunyan of Statewatch notes:
"Biometrics and the personal details of the individual will initially be stored on national databases and later be brought together on an EU-wide database.

It is not very hard to see that within the next ten years there will be moves to integrate the EU passport, ID card, driving licence and health card into one single biometric chipped card. Privacy concerns will be traded for convenience, at least that is what the authorities are hoping for."

The UK EU Presidency has also pushed for 'minimum EU standards' for ID cards to include RFID chips - which can be read remotely and might constitute a threat to privacy (see Document 14390/05).

Luxembourg votes WHEN DISASTER STRIKES...

A little-known document from the UK Presidency, 15106/05, came out on 29.11.05. The European Council gave its agreement to 'EU emergency and crisis co-ordination arrangements'.

A national disaster is one topic which the proposed EU Constitution would handle by specifying that wider involvement would come "at the request of" the impacted member state (Art I-43). Although document 15106/05 pays lip-service to the 'primacy' of member states in response to an emergency, this is hardly backed up by the use of 'subsidiarity' - which the EU would interpret as doing things at a European level where this would be 'most effective'. The arrangements are to enable 'co-ordination capability across all areas of EU activity'.

These could concern a range of disasters, including:

Although claiming not to be concerned with 'co-ordination arrangements affecting individual member states', it addresses arrangements which might be used to assist member states during emergencies:

The EU would form a 'crisis steering group' including its Presidency and the European Commission (and possibly other bodies such as ARGUS, the Commission's proposed 'crisis co-ordination structure' and Europol). It would:

To hit the ground running to this brief, this would need massive preparation for a whole set of possible emergencies, and given the potentially large number of parties involved, a complex set of relationships. It seems highly questionable whether the 'body empowered to take decisions and agree co-ordinated action' would be COREPER - the corps of 'permanent representatives of member states' in Brussels. Ditto whether the European Council - heads of government - could act quickly.

In a real emergency, even if to activate a 'steering group' was officially a joint decision of EU and national representatives, the brief to work to pre-agreed arrangements would imply EU-level co-ordination.

All of this would take place in the backdrop of the Treaty of Nice, under which there is some loose wording on foreign policy and 'security' issues - that member states will "refrain from any action that is not in the interests of the Union" (Title V, Art. 11).

As the EU is to have a 'crisis co-ordination structure', does it automatically become involved in any 'emergency'?

How would the EU regard 'the interests of the Union' in the case of the spread of Avian Flu?

Would the EU regard North Sea oil as 'Europe's oil' or a UK resource if supplies were affected? Watch out for developments in 2006.

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This page updated: 1 January 2006

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