Thursday, April 07, 2005

Double vision

Not everyone sees the discussions about the budget quite as clearly as my colleague does. For instance, Graham Bowley, of the International Herald Tribune, thinks of the rather sordid little log-rolling exercise as a grand clash of two different visions.

In one corner, ladies and gentlemen, we have the Commission, backed by a number of member states (all of them net recipients of funds), making a pitch
“… for a well-funded union, one that has enough money to dole out development aid to its poorer backwaters, to fight crime and illegal immigration, stimulate a high-tech future and run its federal institutions well”.
A rag-bag of political aims, one might say, some good, some bad and some plain ridiculous.
“In this vision, Europe is without borders, run more and more from Brussels – one, according to José Manuel Barroso, the commission president, that has ‘has the means to match its ambitions’.”
The truth is that no organization could have the means to match the EU’s ambitions either territorially or politically. What President “free-marketeer” Barroso means is a Europe that he and his colleagues that include the “free-marketeer” East Europeans can run as a centralized, redistributionist mega-state. (Please note my avoidance of the word superstate that seems to offend so many people.)

So that is one vision but it does not, alas, occupy the field unopposed. There are those mean-minded representatives of donor countries, who do not think that any more money should be handed over to the EU, particularly as a large proportion of it is never properly accounted for.
“The difference in billions of euros between these two positions are not large, especially when compared with the size of national economies.

At one level, the debate is about politicians playing to national galleries,
engineering disputes to deliver victories down the line.

But there is also a more substantive clash between those whose vision of Europe is one where national barriers fall and where economies of scale are best served and cross-border problems are best solved by working together – on the environment, transport, crime, immigration, even defence – and those who are resisting the transfer from national capitals of money, and power, to Europe’s centre.”
We do have to be so very careful, as Superintendent Bell used to say in the Reggie Fortune stories (we are nothing if not erudite on this blog). Analyses like Mr Bowley’s are very insidious.

On the one hand we have people like President Barroso or Budget Commissar Grybauskaite, who want to introduce all these wonderful ideas like international co-operation, economy of size and high-tech economy.

On the other hand we have those mean little national politicians, who just play up to their gallery at home and refuse to hand over any more money to “Europe’s centre”.

Dear, dear. Where shall we start? Perhaps by pointing out that we are not talking about Europe’s centre which is anywhere between Berlin and Vilnius but the self-appointed capital of the European Union.

Then, perhaps we should point out that playing up to the national gallery could also be interpreted as being held accountable by the people who elect you, which could, perhaps, be called democracy, not something that encumbers our various Commissioners and euro-apparatchiks.

Above all, though, the two sides Mr Bowley and, let’s face it, not only he, put up in opposition are nothing of the kind.

Environmental problems are either global or, much more likely, local, best solved by the local areas without the heavy-handed ideological intervention of “Europe’s centre”. The words waste disposal and landfill spring to mind.

Economies of size are best achieved by individual firms through agreements. Whenever they are imposed by “Europe’s centre” (and the word eurofighter springs to mind here) they are not only not efficient, they are not even economical.

Then there is the problem of all those parts of the economy that have been handed over to “Europe’s centre” like fisheries and agriculture.

It is important to remember that the arguments for the increased budget produced by the “free-marketeer” President Barroso and his minions have nothing to do with economic or any other development and everything to do with further integration, more centralized power, unaccountable to the elector or the taxpayer, and redistribution of funds in an old-fashioned socialist way.

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