To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their latest estimate of the net cost to the United Kingdom of membership of the European Union.Lord Sassoon gave some figures, which are based on the assumption that the rise in next year's budget will stay at 2.9 per cent, which is bad enough.
My Lords, the UK's net payment to the European Union budget is projected to increase from £3.8 billion in 2009-10 to £8.6 billion in 2014-15. The main reasons are the increase in the size of the budget and the disapplication of the abatement to non-agricultural spending in the new member states. Both were signed up by the previous Government for 2007-13. We are very concerned about those growing contributions, and we are working hard to moderate them.What exactly he means by working hard to moderate them remains a mystery. The rest of the debate was interesting enough to read, particularly Earl Cathcart's contribution:
My Lords, as individuals, I do not believe that any of your Lordships would continue paying good money to the bank which looked after their money, their savings, and perhaps their mortgage, pensions, life policies and investments if the auditors refused to sign off the accounts because of fraud, theft, mismanagement and embezzlement, yet Britain continues to pay good money to Europe, although the auditors have refused to sign off on the accounts for 14 years for those same four reasons. Why do the Government not pay our great contributions to the EU into a bank account in London, draw down on that to make a payment to the British people as necessary and then pay only the net amount to Brussels if and when the auditors are happy to sign off the accounts? That might concentrate a few minds.Naturally, the answer to that is "well, that is quite a good idea but there is nothing we can do about it".
Subsequently we got the usual guff of how much we get out of the EU - far more than we put in, apparently, - though it all seems to be access to the market, which we would retain even if we were not in the EU. After all, other countries are not banned from trading with the EU if they want and they might not want.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked a couple of pertinent questions:
My Lords, is the Minister aware that we run a consistent trade deficit with the EU of about £40 billion a year? Could he say in relation to our net contribution, given the extra £450 million agreed by the Prime Minister at the recent quarterly meeting—or perhaps the £900 million which we will have to pay if the European Parliament has its way—how much we will then be paying?The answers were a little less pertinent:
My Lords, in answer to the first part of the noble Lord’s question, 40 per cent of the UK’s trade goes to Europe, so it is a critical trading partner. On the potential increase of our budget contribution for next year, I should say that it was only thanks to the work of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister that the budget was put on to the agenda of the Council of Ministers and, thanks to the work he did with a number of other member states, the ridiculous proposal of a 6 per cent increase has been thrown out of court. The Council instead discussed the 2.9 per cent increase which we believed to be the absolute upper limit of what should be acceptable for next year.If we keep running a deficit then perhaps that trading relationship is a little less critical than HMG pretends it is. As for the famous victory at the European Council, I hate to disagree with the Noble Minister, but it did not happen. The annual budget, as I keep saying, is still being discussed. Indeed, an interesting article on EUObserver tells us that even if the European Parliament backs down on its demands for an almost 6 per cent increase, there will be hidden payments, which are likely to raise the Budget contributions well above the famous 2.9 per cent (which was not, in any case, Cameron's original aim).
But Ms Jedrzejewska, who is responsible for drafting the Parliament's position on this matter, says that if the Parliament agreed to the 2.9 percent figure, more money would have to be added in "ammended budgets" throughout the course of next year.Can't wait to hear how that will be spun by the Cleggeron Coalition.
"It's not an honest proposal and people who wrote the letter know it will be more in the end. They are just postponing payments," she said.
This tactic – already seen this year with no less than 10 amending budgets – increases the lack of transparency of EU accounts, which only leads to more lack of understanding from EU citizens, she argued.
"On one hand member states are asking us to cut payments for 2011, but on the other they are demanding supplements for 2010," Ms Jedrzejewska said.
Listing the extra expenditures already agreed for next year, she mentioned: compensations for banana producers agreed by EU member states and the World Trade Organisation, which would be worth €80 million; the France-based nuclear fusion project (ITER) project, for which international funding to the tune of €1.5 billion still has to be found; and the new EU diplomatic service which will need at least €34 million extra funds in 2011.
Not included in the draft budget is the humanitarian aid to Pakistan, for which the European Commission has not tabled a figure yet, or extra aid for the Palestinian territories, amounting to some €100 million.