UK prime minister David Cameron may have an idea of what he would like the European Budget to be, but he has no apparent interest in its impact on political goodwill at home, let alone in the rest of Europe. In a statement to the House of Commons on Monday, he announced: “There is plenty of scope for significant savings in the common agricultural policy (sic)…”
Cameron likened a EUR 994 billion budget commitment to “…having a credit card limit far above what one can afford.” To be sure, if public spending mechanisms were remotely analagous to personal finances, he might have a point.
The political cost, however, defies anything as tidy as a number. A spokesman told the Agricultural and Rural Convention that deputy prime minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was “in full agreement” with Cameron ahead of the Brussels summit.
“That’s why Nick Clegg and David Cameron were hitting the phones all week in the run up the European Council, talking to our European partners to explain the UK’s position and to try to find a constructive and sensible way towards an agreement on the budget,” the party said, putting a bold face on the fact that the coalition shared a common position for different reasons.
The fact that Conservative vice chair Michael Fabricant has been openly promoting an electoral alliance with the UK Independence Party (UKIP) begs a number of questions, not least the tory view of what the life expectancy of the current coalition might be. Unlike the Lib Dems, UKIP has no MPs at Westminster but a dozen MEPs in the European Parliament drawing pay cheques from an institution they do not believe in (and want to leave).
“We’re fully aware of the irony of our situation,” spokesman Gawain told ARC. “If we were turkeys, we’d probably vote for Christmas, too.” Once famously dismissed by David Cameron as a party of “…fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists…” UKIP is enjoying a free ride on a media-driven carousel. It is able to pander to populist Europhobic sentiments and has no intention of engaging in constructive dialogues. This is getting in the way serious parliamentary work, though.
On Wednesday, Scottish MEP Alyn Smith met DG Sanco in his ongoing challenge to electronic tagging (EID) regulations, which are hurting upland sheep farmers and their sheep, quite literally. The MEP brought some recent data from Shetland, where nearly 300 farmers reported lost tags, almost as many whose animals suffered damaged ears and a similar number found electronic tags and its related hardware oppressively expensive.
“The survey results were read with interest, but with scepticism that what we are seeing in Shetland is replicable across the EU,” the MEP declared.
“The point was also made by them that there is only one Member State vocally complaining about EID and it is the same Member State whose Prime Minister David Cameron is frequently undermining the solidarity of the EU and voicing his opposition to every piece of European legislation, whether good, bad or indifferent,” Smith fumed.
“I think we eventually won the battle persuading them that Scotland is a constructive partner of the European Union but it is frustrating that we were on the back foot before we started and just shows the ill will that Cameron’s negotiating tactics are creating in Brussels.”
Elfyn Llwyd, a Plaid Cymru MP at Westminster, was equally scathing about Cameron’s prima donna performance last week. “It is clear that the Prime Minister is completely out of touch with the needs of the people of Wales. The same is true of the Welsh Labour MPs who recently voted with staunch right-wing Conservatives for a real-terms cut in the EU budget.”
“Over the last budgetary period of 2007-2013, Wales received at least 1 billion euro more than it contributed. This included Common Agricultural Policy payments to the tune of £300m, and around £150m of convergence funding.”
“I’m extremely disappointed that both the Prime Minister and Welsh Labour MPs have put short-term narrow political advantage first, without considering for a moment the long-term strategic implications of their actions,” Llwyd exclaimed. “This goes to show that Plaid Cymru is the only party willing and committed to putting the interests of the people of Wales first.”