European Movement UK

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I was on the radio this morning discussing with eurosceptic Tory MP Bill Cash the proposal that there should be some kind of common discussion among the member state governments and the European Commission about the national budgets of the member states.

The European budget is of course agreed by the member states, but it would be new to introduce some kind of pre-clearance of national budgets in the same way. Under the principle of subsidiarity, where issues are dealt with at the lowest possible level, one might say that a national budget should be just that, national.

But the principle of subsidiarity also proposes that issues should be centralised if necessary, and the experience of Greece shows how the way in which one country sets its national budget can have implications for the others. The coalition government here in the UK insists that the need to cut public spending as far and as fast as it intends is a result of the Greek experience: it cannot now turn round and tell us that what happened in Greece is nothing to do with us. Macroeconomic strategies have become a cross-border issue.

But acknowledging the cross-border implications of macroeconomics does not imply transferring all decision-making on this issue to Brussels. Bill Cash’s assertions to the contrary are simply false. After all, it is not up to “Brussels” to decide what powers should be exercised at the EU level: it is up to the national governments of the member states to decide, and which of them wishes to surrender the powers that are hard-won in general elections?

No, there is a desire to strengthen cooperation between national governments but not to emasculate them. This is how it should be.

There is a specific point with regard to the British budgetary procedure. In most countries, the annual budget goes through a series of drafts which are discussed and examined in public. Including the European Commission and the other national governments in this discussion is no difficulty. In the House of Commons, on the other hand, the Chancellor presents the budget as a piece of theatre, springing surprises on the assembled MPs who can then be whipped through in their support. Perhaps this is not the most rational way to devise a budget – and recent practice has been to leak certain portions of the budget to the media in advance – but it is the way in which we do it. It will be possible to devise a way to include the British budget-setting method within the overall European objective of exchanging information between national governments and coordinating their approach.

For that is what is proposed, the exchange of information. People should be talking to each other. It takes a certain kind of eurosceptic to think that this is wrong.

Richard Laming

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