A Future in Europe? Commissioner Confronts London on EU Loyalty

Does Britain belong in the European Union? There are plenty both in the United Kingdom and on the Continent who have their doubts. Now, with the debate over the EU's next budget raging, a European Commissioner has challenged London to decide. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is also losing her patience over the squabble.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is taking a tough line on the EU budget. Zoom
REUTERS

British Prime Minister David Cameron is taking a tough line on the EU budget.

Many in the European Union have long rolled their eyes when conversation turns to the United Kingdom. Britain is often seen on the Continent as one of the most problematic members of the 27-member club, wary of any moves that might lead toward further European integration.

Now, as the EU begins earnest negotiations aimed at passing a budget to cover the years 2014 to 2020, it appears Brussels is beginning to lose its patience. Britain this week has been adamant in its refusal to accept the budget proposal of €1 trillion made by the European Commission and has demanded that it be slashed by up to 20 percent. Other member states would also like to see the budget proposal adjusted downward, but so far, the rhetoric from London has been uncompromising.

On Friday, European Commissioner for Financial Programming and Budget Janusz Lewandowski, Poland's representative in the EU's executive, said it was time for Britain to make a fundamental decision regarding its future in the European Union. "Of course there are limits," he said in an interview with the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. "We can't finance more Europe with substantially less money."

When asked if he was referring to budgetary criticism coming from London, Lewandowski said: "Of course I am also referring to Great Britain. Either they see their future in the European Union in the long term or they don't."

Lewandowski's comments come on the heels of several brash comments on the budget coming from leading British politicians. Parliament on Wednesday heaped pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron to push through deep cuts to the EU's proposed budget, as several members of his own party joined the opposition in a non-binding vote on the matter.

'Prepared to Use the Veto'

Even before the vote, Cameron had hinted at what his negotiating stance will be when European leaders gather in Brussels on Nov. 22 to pass the budget. "This government is taking the toughest line in these budget negotiations of any government since we joined the European Union," Cameron said. "At best we would like it cut, at worst frozen, and I'm quite prepared to use the veto if we don't get a deal that's good for Britain."

His finance minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, echoed the sentiment on Thursday. "We will veto any deal that is not good for the British taxpayer," he said.

Lewandowski is not the only one losing his patience with the tone of the debate. Several European leaders have waded into the budget debate in recent days and some have used language similar in its firmness to that coming out of London. Indeed, France likewise threatened to veto the budget if agricultural subsidies are cut. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday asked that the volume be turned down. "I don't want to throw more vetoes into the room," she said at a press conference. "It doesn't help bring about a solution."

In his interview with the Süddeutsche, Lewandowski sought to defend his budget proposal, saying all it asks for is year-on-year inflationary adjustments to the budget as it stands in 2013. In other words, he says, Brussels isn't asking for more money at all. He points out, however, that due to enlargement and other increased demands being placed on the EU, Brussels needs the money it has requested to fulfil its obligations.

"You should not forget that in the course of recent years, leaders have handed the EU new obligations," he said. "Unfortunately it is often the case that the financial aspect is forgotten."

cgh -- with wire reports

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1. Europe must first stop its wastage
Inglenda2 11/02/2012
There is little to say against British Prime Minister David Cameron taking a tough line on the EU budget. Those, who take the trouble to read the Newsletters provided by the EU, can hardly not be amazed, by the extreme wastage of taxpayers money in Brussels. For this reason alone it can only be of advantage to us all for Britain to remain in the EU! For a European Commissioner to challenge London’s right to membership, is unfortunately just another indication of the political arrogance which causes scepticism amongst the British community. Not Britain is the greatest problem for a free democratic Europe, but governments which work against their own citizens. Frau Angela Merkel & Co., for example, did not have the courage to ask the German people whether they wanted the Euro or not. She knew quite well that most of the population were against it. The present crisis shows how right they were! A common currency, without common taxes and social systems, cannot ever be stable. To say: “Many in the European Union have long rolled their eyes when conversation turns to the United Kingdom” may very well be true, but further European integration is only possible when all are prepared to take the same chances and risks. At the moment there is no sign of such a fair basis, with just a few countries paying the bills – many of which are unnecessary – and others holding out their hands for more. A budget which allows Brussels to pass taxpayers money on to corrupt and incapable national governments and other organisations, within and outside of Europe, is something no intelligent European observer could support, unless of course he, or she, is one of the over-privileged who benefits therefrom. The European Commission would do well to apply the same austerity measures, which it demands from EU members, to its own future plans, otherwise it might be the general public which will lose its patience. Should that occur, not just the Euro but the whole European idea could collapse. The British government may be a catastrophe for Britain, but in this case it has shown a good example for those capable of deeper thought. Of course Janusz Lewandowski’s arguments can also be understood, after all, his country is one of the main profit makers of the present system!
2.
blaurance@fsmail.net 11/02/2012
Zitat von sysopDoes Britain belong in the European Union? There are plenty both in the United Kingdom and on the Continent who have their doubts. Now, with the debate over the EU's next budget raging, a European Commissioner has challenged London to decide. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is also losing her patience over the squabble. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/eu-budget-commissioner-challenges-uk-loyalty-to-europe-a-864941.html
the EU and EURO are bad ideas badly executed and we should stop wasting our time and resources of course we should be good neighbours and trade with the rest of Europe BTW it is not the EU which brought peace and stability to Europe it was the allied forces of Russia, Britain and USA
3.
dp0001 11/02/2012
Zitat von sysopDoes Britain belong in the European Union? There are plenty both in the United Kingdom and on the Continent who have their doubts. Now, with the debate over the EU's next budget raging, a European Commissioner has challenged London to decide. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is also losing her patience over the squabble. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/eu-budget-commissioner-challenges-uk-loyalty-to-europe-a-864941.html
Fascinating that a net contributor country which questions how EU money is being spent is called a 'birth defect' that shouldn't be part of the EU while corrupt 3rd world banana republics like Greece, and mafia-run dictatorships like Romania and Bulgaria must be 'kept in at all costs'. Please EU expel us and our money, I'm sure we can manage without you.
4. Eu
thorpeman@sky.com 11/02/2012
No we dont want to be in the EU but we are attached by a ball & chain & no one is giving us the key to take them off & get out. Its a communist undemocratic collection of failed politicians & the proof of this is in the pudding!
5. Why not France?
pmoseley 11/03/2012
At a time when national governments within the EU are forcing their populations to endure harsher austerity, then why should unelected officials in the EU Commission have the right to demand more from the said governments to pay for even more EU bureaucracy? In any case, Britain's rebate is largely based on its relatively low income from EU farm susidies because of its relatively small and efficient farming system. Reduce these inefficient farm subsidies, and the UK would be far more amenable to reducing its rebate. But of course France, with it's huge farming lobby, objects to this. So it is left to Der Spiegel to bring out the old whipping boy tactics of blaming it all on Britain's 'anti-european' stance instead of blaming France, the real culprit.
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