Downing Street is claiming the credit for cutting the EU Budget for 2014/ 2020, the so-called Multi-Annual Financial Framework. The ceiling for overall payments has been set at EUR 908.40 billion, compared to EUR 942.78 billion in the MFF 2007-2013, meaning a reduction of just over 3%. This is quite an achievement — the first real-terms budget cut in EU history — though as Downing Street is less keen to emphasise, the actual UK contribution will still rise, because Tony Blair rashly gave away a big chunk of the UK rebate in exchange for a promise, never fulfilled, of CAP reform.
Another point which Downing Street has failed to emphasise is that under the new dispensation of the Lisbon Treaty, the European parliament also has to agree to the deal. And it may well not do so. It’s expected to come up at our March Strasbourg session. There’s already been a minor furore over whether it should be a secret ballot, which would enable MEPs to defy requests from their respective governments without being found out. UKIP of course opposes a secret ballot — our voters are entitled to know what we did.
But that leaves us with the question — how should we vote? Our first instinct of course is to vote against. We don’t want to be in the EU, and we don’t want any EU budget at all . No matter how little the EU costs us, it’s still too much
But on the other hand, we’ve always called on the EU to spend less, so how can we vote against a reduced budget? Just suppose, for the sake of argument, that in a tight vote our dozen UKIP votes tipped the scales and defeated the proposal. If no agreement is reached, the default position is a real-terms freeze — so the budget would go up in nominal terms. How do we fancy a headline “UKIP vote leads to increased EU budget”?
Tough call. But of course there’s an up-side in terms of voter perception, if the budget deal falls. The news for the voters would then be “Member States agreed a cut, but the European parliament effectively vetoed it”. That should increase public anger and resentment against the EU and all its works.