European Parliament can't wait to spend taxpayers' money

4 November 2018

European Parliament can't wait to spend taxpayers' money

The money which the European Union has at its disposal is primarily dependent on a multi-annual budget drawn up for a period of seven years. This budget is decided by the member states, with the European Parliament enjoying no more than a 'veto or approve' vote. With the help of the European Commission, however, there's more to it than that for the EP. In all sorts of policy areas we are receiving in rapid tempo proposals for programmes. This involves a normal legislative procedure, one which gives the Parliament a role, and once a programme has been adopted it will be written in stone for several years, including its costs. This is fine for the EP, which thus gets a greater say. I don't understand, however, why the heads of government, such as our own Prime minister Mark Rutte, go along with it,. I would have thought they would be concerned to save taxpayers' money, but by agreeing to so many programmes they risk the multi-annual budget turning out to be very expensive indeed.

The European Commission is playing a clever game. Of course, there will soon, as a result of Brexit, be one member state fewer, yet according to Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and his colleagues, EU spending must increase: there is a need for a large number of new policies and these will cost money. In addition to existing programmes the Commission has come out with a number of new ideas, including a programme to strengthen the internal market, a programme for a digital Europe, a programme to promote the EU's 'values' and so on. I've always been taught that before you look at what you are obliged to spend, you look at what you've got in the bank. The Commission and the EP work rather differently, however: you start by deciding what nice things you all want and what they will cost, then you write this in legislative stone before, at the end of this process, telling the member states how much they have to cough up.

The Commission's figures are still only indicative, but if the programmes are formally adopted, it will become almost impossible for the member states to lower them. The new programmes are currently the subject of intense negotiations, but deep silence surrounds the issue of reducing spending on those already existing. This is despite the fact that the agriculture funds, which are after all primarily a leftover from the past, could certainly be slashed. Other funds too could be much more intelligently spent were they targeted at the poorest regions, which would avoid the Netherlands paying out to the EU only to receive the money back from the funds in a process known in Dutch as 'rondpompen' – 'pumping around'. This is once again an example of Brussels 'salami tactics': let the member state governments chat about a modest multi-annual budget while at the same time adopting programme after programme for which more money is needed. I'd like to tell Mark Rutte to wake up and avoid falling into this trap. We can make much better use of our own taxpayers' money ourselves.

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