Sunday, January 23, 2005

Waxing indignant

Daniel Hannan, part time MEP and journalist, is waxing lyrical – actually, more like indignant – in his monthly column in the Sunday Telegraph today, proclaiming at the "bloody cheek" of the Lithuanian budget commissioner, Dalia Grybauskaite.

"They've only been here two minutes", complains Hannan, and the very first act of this ingrate Lithuanian is to demand that Britain give up its budget rebate.

For years we refused to recognise the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, storms the indignant Hannan, we held on to their gold reserves until there was an independent government to take them back, we were one of the first countries to support their application to join the EU. And what do they do the moment they are in?

Only later does Hannan try to be "fair" to Mrs Grybauskaite, noting recovering the rebate is in fact commission policy, and our own – well, British - Peter Mandelson is toeing the commission line.

Hannan does concede that an expanded EU needs an expanded budget and Mrs Grybauskaite wants an extra trillion euros – an almost unbelievable sum – to fund her various projects. And the only way she can get it is if Britain increases its contribution.

Grudgingly he also concedes that Mrs Grybauskaite has a point. When the new countries joined the EU, writes Hannan, they submitted to the whole panoply of Euro-corporatism: the social chapter, the 48-hour week, the CAP. Having lost their ability to export cheaply, it is natural that they should look to Brussels for compensation.

Now comes the brain wave. Hannan brightly suggests that "perhaps the greatest favour we could do them would be to withhold our payments. They would then have to price themselves into the market by opting out of EU regulations, which might prompt an unravelling of the EU social model.

The Euro-sophists, Hannan says, will tell you that it is unfeasible. But many things that are said to be unfeasible are later feased. Just ask Margaret Thatcher. Yea, right, Hannan – don’t call us. We’ll call you.

Had he spent more time on the subject for which he is so highly paid, both from the coffers of the taxpayer and the Telegraph, he might have noticed that there is an interesting spat going on between Poland and Spain which could very well sideline the whole rebate argument.

This stems from the precise reason as to why Mrs Grybauskaite needs so much money. It is not only the need to fund various projects but also because the EU has to fund all those hand-outs by way of structural funds to the relatively less well countries of the Union, like Ireland… but particularly Spain, Poland and the rest of the enlargement countries.

These countries, together with Greece, had formed a loose alliance, alongside the commission, with Poland taking the role of spokesman (spokescountry?) for the other former communist satellites. But all the accession countries are conscious that, in order for the EU to fund them, Spain, as the largest beneficiary of EU handouts, must put some money in the kitty.

However, Spain being Spain, has decided it wants to keep the money flowing, leaving only the scraps for the new entrants. And this, according to the Polish daily, Gazeta Wyborcza, is not acceptable to the Polish government.

From being a central member of the "more money" alliance, it has now told Spain it "is not ruling out the possibility of changing its strategy completely in negotiating the European Union's 2007-2013 budget, and joining the coalition of countries opting for a reduction in EU spending."

"We will have no difficulty leaving the Spaniards alone with their problems, if we find out that their financial needs are to be satisfied at our cost," says Jaroslaw Pietras, the minister of European affairs.

With Spain out in the cold, the Polish government is then prepared to support the EU budget's net contributors (Germany, France, Britain, Sweden, Austria and Holland), in exchange for a guarantee that subsidies for the EU's new member states will be left untouched.

Should this happen, Mrs Gazeta Wyborcza may not need that money after all and can leave the Brtish rebate alone. Hannan can then pick on something else to wax indignant about.

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