During the European Council on 28 October, Jerzy Buzek, the president of the European Parlia-ment, hoped to sway the argument by saying that a cut in the 2011 EU budget would be “anti-European”. In the Parliament, the label ‘anti-European' is used to stifle criticism. That is harder in the real world.
Buzek's statement was thrown back in his face. Government leaders such as Angela Merkel, David Cameron and Mark Rutte are cutting their national budgets. As Merkel asked, are they anti-German, anti-British, anti-Dutch?
The battle for the 2011 budget is just a prelude to the battle for the multi-annual budget framework (possibly) covering the period 2014-20. The battlelines about how the EU should be financed are similar.
One school of thought is made up of those who regard the EU as a major player, replacing national member states. This school believes the EU needs fiscal autonomy to collect its own revenues, with power and money being increasingly transferred to its centre, Brussels. Its logic is: more money = more Europe = good for Europe.
The second school regards the EU as a common workshop to pool certain competences in order to achieve ‘added value' in a number of domains, like the single market, monetary stability, environmental policy, foreign policy, energy independence or the manage-ment of immigration. However, member states remain key players and they transfer money to Brussels only to the extent to which EU institutions create added value. Its logic is: Europe = member states = limited EU budget.
Unsurprisingly, the first school prevails in the European Commission and the Parliament; the second is strongly rooted in the Council of Ministers.
In the prelude, the 2011 budget, the Council is heading for victory. The Parliament voted to increase the budget by 6%. There was a whopping majority of 546 votes in favour and 88 against. I was among the 88 because I believe that the EU cannot embark on a spending spree when ordinary citizens have to tighten their belts. Although I am in a minority in the Parliament, my line of reasoning has won the argument in the Council. It is proposing an increase of 2.9%. That is generous and I suggest the ‘pro-European majority' in the Parliament should accept the ultimate offer of the ‘anti-European' government leaders. Council 1, Parliament 0.
How will the game develop? Last month, the Commission released a document on the future financing of the EU. It came as no surprise that the Commission wants to increase the EU's ‘own resources' (read: EU taxation) to feed the multi-annual budget. Currently, ‘own resources' finance 25% of the EU budget; 75% comes from member states. The Commission is suggesting a deal: member states donate less and, in return, Brussels gets fiscal autonomy and collects money through EU taxation directly from citizens. The Commission's ideas for EU taxes include: a financial transaction tax; a financial activity tax; levies on carbon emissions; an energy tax; a tax on air tickets; EU-level VAT. This list is not exhaustive.
I am against this ‘deal' because it will offer the EU bureaucracy fiscal auton-omy and allow it to feed itself. Since the Parliament does not protect EU citizens against profligacy, it will generate a spending spree beyond control.
The system of national contributions is preferable. True, it involves a period of messy negotiations, but at least it keeps EU spending in control because government leaders and national finance ministers face their parliaments and public opinion. They are exposed to the real world; the Commission is not and the Parliament is out of touch.
That is why I have prepared the ground for a European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) against EU taxation. I hope taxpayer associations in Europe will officially launch an initiative once the ECI legislation is adopted. It is up to Europ-ean taxpayers to protect themselves. The Parliament is not doing so