Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Still keeping that powder dry

George Osborne's first ECOFIN meeting was a huge success - for the colleagues, as this blog recorded it at the time. Don't be unfair, we were all told at the time; there is nothing he can do about those hedge funds as it had all been decided before this government was ever thought of. Hmmm, well, maybe but that argument of not bothering about the past but looking to the future has not been particularly effective as far as the EU is concerned.

Georgy-Porgy, we were told, is keeping his powder dry for other battles that he will be able to win. Battles such as the one about the Budget. Mr Osborne assured us that nothing on earth would make him agree to an arrangement that allowed the Commission (whose own accounts have not been signed off by the EU's Court of Auditors even once) to examine and pass the Budget before it came to the House of Commons. This is how the FT put it last time:
He may be back in Brussels on Friday fighting on another front, this time opposing a suggestion by the European Commission that national budgets be submitted for prior scrutiny by other EU member states. "National parliaments must be paramount," he said. "I'm perfectly happy to discuss details of the Budget with the Commission but only after it has been discussed in parliament."
Even then national parliaments were not exactly paramount as Georgy-Porgy must have realized from the saga of the hedge funds. Still, the question of who decides on the Budget is an important one.

According to Bruno Waterfield in today's Telegraph, that battle, too, has been lost.
Britain was isolated during a meeting of an “economic government taskforce”, chaired by Herman Van Rompuy, the EU President, last night.

Mr Van Rompuy and the European Commission have tabled plans that will require all of Europe’s governments to discuss their budget plans with other EU finance ministers and officials before they presented to national parliaments.

“A government presenting a budget plan with a high deficit would have to justify itself in front of its peers, among finance ministers,” said Mr Van Rompuy.

“There would still be time to adjust plans before the final budget plans are presented.”
Much will be made of the fact that Britain, not being in the euro, escapes certain punitive measures but there is no getting away from the basic fact:
But EU officials and French diplomats have insisted that British Chancellors of the Exchequer will be required to give their budgetary plans to the EU not after they are given to MPs in Westminster, "but before or simultaneously”.
Undoubtedly, this is the parliamentary right that the likes of John Hampden fought for.

Interestingly, the FT seems to have forgotten that previous promise of Mr Osborne's and concentrates on the fact that these "supervisory powers" (of which they seem to approve) will come into play only on a few "strictly defined" occasions. Experience tells one that once power has been given to an organization, those definitions become ever wider.

Meanwhile, much is being made of the ConLibs' latest gimmick: let me ask the public what they would like me to do. Douglas Carswell has already impressed his small band of followers with this (more of that in another posting) and now we have the Chancellor calling "on the public to identify which services should be cut as part of a 'once-in-a-generation' spending review".

First of all, why does Mr Osborne think this is a 'once-in-a-generation' spending review? Has he learnt nothing from the fact that hyperbole of that kind during the electoral campaign produced a turn-out of 65 per cent and a Conservative defeat snatched from the jaws of victory?

Secondly, we elected Mr Osborne and others in order that they take decisions as they see fit. If we do not like those decisions we shall throw him and his little friends out next time. We did not elect them to play stupid games of the kind one can see on reality TV.

Thirdly, how is he going to decide whose suggestions to take? Of course, he is not going to pay a blind bit of attention and how can he? People sending in emotional suggestions, based on no knowledge of data whatsoever are not going to impress the Treasury. So, in the end, the decisions will be taken by the Treasury with the Chancellor agreeing. What is the point of this ridiculous charade?

In any case, what if the Commission and ECOFIN disapproves of the popular suggestions Georgy-Porgy adds to the Budget and tells him to take it back and think again?

1 comment:

  1. Is there anything in the treaties to allow the Commissars to vet the Budget? Thought not.