David Cameron wants a freeze; the House of Commons has voted for a cut. What should happen to the EU budget? Opposition in the UK to the budget increase proposed by the European Commission reflects variously people’s preconceptions about the state of the public finances or the proper role of the European Union, without actually examining the underlying reality
It is an article of faith for this website that money spent by the European Union should be treated as public spending like any other, with all that implies, both good and bad. Justification and control are just as important at international level as they are nationally, and so is the demand for value for money. It is the fact that in some cases an international spending programme might provide better value for money than a set of national spending programmes that justifies the EU having a budget at all. That fact is not diminished by the current fashion for austerity. If the proposed EU budget is worth the money, then it is worth the money.
Do not be fooled by people who say that the money is not there. There is plenty of money available. UK public spending this year will amount to some £688 billion, or £11,000 per person. That is a lot of money, enough to buy every family of four in the country a brand new BMW 5 series. If it feels as though there is a shortage of money, that is because we are spending it on the wrong things, not because we do not have enough.
It makes no sense to say that the EU budget should be cut just because national budgets are also being cut. The public spending axe should not necessarily fall equally everywhere. In the UK, health spending and foreign aid are being treated differently from public sector pensions and MPs’ expenses. What matters is what we get for the money.