Latest EU insanity is in the 'couldn't make it up category'
It beggars belief that the EU could behave in such a self-destructive fashion. A smash and grab raid for taxpayers' money on the eve of a crucial by-election? But maybe that's because they don't give a toss about Britain anyway. Who knew?
The timing couldn’t have been better if you are Farage, or worse if you are Cameron. The outrage over Brussels’ smash-and-grab raid on €2bn of British tax-payers’ money is exacerbated by its timing. Whatever possessed the suits in the Berlaymont to produce this IED just before a crucial by-election and almost on the eve of the Great Palaver, the meeting of the EU summit? Stupidity?
Or – more likely – the Eurocrats don’t give a toss what the beastly British think.
It certainly produced an unusual unanimity of view across the UK political spectrum. Cameron can never emulate a Thatcher hand-bagging, but he certainly put a bit of stick about. The Lib-Dems called it senseless. Farage talked about ‘vampires’.
Miliband may or may not have taken a view. For Cameron, he is facing a possible disaster in Rochester and a Tory revolt over the European Arrest Warrant that Mrs May wants to opt into despite voting against when in Opposition.
The entire episode falls firmly into the, ‘you couldn’t make it up’ category.
The demand is based on calculations going back 19 years for budget periods long since closed. The EU accounts have not been signed off for about 13 years. The assessment of budget share based on GDP is a Brussels construct that takes into account the proceeds of prostitution and drug-trafficking. (How is the data collected? From the ladies’ and dealers’ tax returns?).
The spread of the demands and rewards piles absurdity upon absurdity. Britain and the Netherlands are punished for success. France has ruined its economy by Socialist profligacy, so it is rewarded with €800 million. Europe’s biggest economy, Germany, gets €615 million which is peanuts to them whilst bankrupt Greece gets clobbered for €71 million.
Perhaps it will pay with another German bail-out. Italy, teetering on the edge of economic collapse, is another victim; it gets done for €268 million.
So what is Dave to do?
He will most likely try to kick the can down the road past May 2017. He carefully left himself wriggle-room by saying that Britain would refuse to pay on 1st December. He can try diplomacy but any agreement between EU leaders would need the backing of Merkel, and she has already said ‘Get used to it!’ He could mount a legal challenge which could keep the tax-gatherers at bay for a long time.
The retrospective nature of the demand and the lack of notice could lead to some very interesting legal exchanges.
He could get an agreement to deduct the payments from future Budget contributions so that a lump sum now would be avoided. He could try to get an agreement in the European Council simply to ignore the demand, but persuading the countries that are getting rebates to agree to this is almost certainly out of the question
Or just not pay.
The EU could launch its own legal proceedings. The maximum penalty would be a fine of around €200 million annually; Britain could refuse to pay until the legal proceedings were over, which could be a pretty long time.
At the end of the day there will be a shabby, face-saving compromise.
But there is little doubt that this Brussels stitch-up, irresponsible, unreasonable and ill-timed, has been an enormous boost to the followers of Brexit. It could be the tipping point when the EU begins its slide down to the midden of history.
Robin Mitchinson is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. A former barrister, living in the Isle of Man, he is an international public management specialist with almost two decades of experience in institutional development, decentralisation and democratisation processes. He has advised governments and major international institutions across the world
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