Tuesday, November 01, 2011

A Budget for Europe: what Liberals want the Union to do

Last time, I looked at the areas where European liberals sense that Europe has, potentially, a greater need for action. Today, it's time to look at the 'wish list'...

Calls for:
  • An end to the blame game that sees “Brussels” made the scapegoat for things that national politicians do not want to take responsibility for;
  • National and European politicians to openly talk about and promote the good things the EU has achieved and how European money has helped to improve the lives of people at all levels of society;
Bless... the day that politicians stop blaming something far away that has little ability to make its own case, and even fewer friends, is about as far away as a Liberal Democrat majority government. I wish it wasn't so, but...
  • New joint EU solutions which create an added value and demonstrate the efficiency of community action;
  • A debate at the Member State and European levels on what constitutes European added value;
Indeed, what is Europe for? What is it most effective at? And let's be honest, all of the bluster over an EU referendum acts to blur the real debate.
  • Greater scrutiny of the EU budget in terms of the added value that EU level initiatives bring before allocating money to the various budget lines;
  • A commitment to review the CAP during the 2014-2020 period and to further reduce its budget beyond 2020 as part of the ongoing process of phasing out the policy.
Now, here's a controversial one, abolishing the Common Agricultural Policy. How much would that save the British taxpayer, I wonder, given that our farmers are apparently so efficient?

Wants to see the EU budget 2014-2020 include:
  • Alignment of EU spending commitments, including in particular the CAP and cohesion policy, with the goals of the EU 2020 Strategy;
What do you mean, spending money on your priorities? What sort of talk is that? Any more of that and you'll be convincing people that politicians mean what they say.
  • The introduction of a ”greening” top-up incentivisation payment aimed at improving sustainability, tackling climate change, improving farm competitiveness and driving innovation across the EU through EU-wide applicable measures. This greening top-up should not disadvantage those farmers who are the most advanced in terms of environmental protection, and should not lead to an additional administrative burden;
You'll have noticed that liberals don't like bureaucracy... but this might well act to increase food production in the poorer, more agricultural economies of the Union.
  • Financial means for the fight against climate change, as well as for sustainable development, energy infrastructure to secure the Union’s economic future and reduce dangerous dependency on imported oil and gas, renewable energies and preservation of biodiversity, in line with EU political commitments and declarations;
A European power grid, linking to the various trans-nation facilities in place already. Sounds like a good idea to me, and potentially profitable for a country with huge wavepower generation potential. Know any countries with a really long oceanic coastline?
  • A new system, for instance called JERICHO (”Joint Rural Investment CHOice”), [to be developed] to let the Rural Development Fund provide SMEs with finance in rural areas where the market fails;
This looks like a bit of a dinosaur to me, with a large multi-national structure trying to find small, nimble companies. Feels like something better suited to a national Regional Growth Fund, I would suggest.
  • Further investment in future-oriented trans-national networks in the fields of energy, transport and communications as a means through which to foster economic growth and to boost social interaction across the Union;
We're talking major infrastructure projects here. In fairness though, such things are already happening (investment in the railway link from Felixstowe to Nuneaton, for example), but the EU needs to be a bit bolder in claiming some of the credit.
  • A reinforcement of the share of the EU budget allocated to Research, Development and Innovation policies;
Or in other words, the policy of national champions doesn't always work.
  • Funding for the extension of the Erasmus scheme to enable students, researchers and academics from outside the Union to spend a period of time at an EU university;
  • A reduction in administration expenditure to be achieved by replacing the monthly commute of the European Parliament to Strasbourg with the establishment of a single seat for the Parliament in Brussels;
A really easy change, which the French will obstruct to the last man. I like Strasbourg, but put another institution there if you must.
  • An increased share devoted to the EU’s role as global actor, to answer to topical challenges in the Union’s geographical vicinity in both the short and long term as well as giving the EU’s External Action Service, set up by the Member States in the European Council, the appropriate tools to operate fully, and not remain as a paper tiger.
Oh dear, more money for Cathy Ashton. Perhaps not, at least while the key players would rather go their own way.

In tomorrow's final instalment, I'll be reviewing the principles that ELDR believes should be applied in structuring the financial arrangements for Europe, including the bit that Liberal Democrats will stand foursquare against...

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