The Epic Brussels Face Plant
On a day when the European Union should have been celebrating a strong package for emissions reductions and renewable energy to 2030, the headlines were stolen by a botched, bean-counter’s Brit bash. A day to prove the value and ambition of the EU working together to combat global problems turned into a day to suggest that the European Commission is so detached from reality we would be better (and richer) off without it.
First the good news. Thanks to some hard bargaining from our Energy Secretary Ed Davey, the EU has committed to a cut in greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, an EU-wide binding target for renewable energy of at least 27% and an indicative energy efficiency target of at least 27%. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s a deal that has taken two years to negotiate and it will help us continue to take action on climate change without becoming uncompetitive. It’s a also deal that will put down the marker for other big economies when a global deal is thrashed out next year. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a deal that shows Europe at its best: cooperative, progressive, green and with a long term agenda.
And yet, and yet, and yet. At the same time as the UK led the EU council of ministers to a bold climate deal, the unelected technocrats at the European Commission were undermining the very participation of the UK in Europe.
Denuded of even the slightest political camoflague, the bare stupidity of the £1.7bn bill from the Commission to the UK was paraded across TV, radio and internet all day. The Commission refused to put forward spokesmen because to them, it’s all so simple. Forget the fact that disengagement from the Brussels machine is endemic across Europe, ignore the increasing clamour within Britain for withdrawal, forget the austerity gripping the continent:
Computer says £1.7bn.
Unfortunately the demand is an outrageously crass, unnecessary mistake. Who has not been at a restaurant and fallen out (politely of course) over contributions to a split bill? If someone’s short you come to a deal. The EU budget back is hardly like a rogue bottle of wine and a couple of undesignated tiramisu. Financial requests for multiple hundreds of millions at an EU level should be handled through careful negotiation before anyone actually starts demanding money.
Unfortunately, this is the second time in a week that the Commission has been cast as the enforcer of rules that the UK must obey. On the first rule – immigration – I have sympathy for the view that free movement of labour is in our long term interest, but the Commission’s tone is starting to grate. On the idea that the UK should pay in a 20% levy to account for our stronger economy, the Commission must go back to the drawing board.
But while some will ponder the rights and wrongs of these dictats, those with less time will be coming to the logical conclusion that the EU is a money-sink that cares less for the UK than we do for them.
Such a cliche is mildly amusing when pedaled by a demagogic mouthpiece in tweed. When it is backed up by the actions of the Commission itself, it becomes a serious danger to Britain’s national interest.
I believe that our future lies as a strong voice within the EU, fighting for strong trans-national deals on free trade, combating international crime and (as we have seen today) leading the way on the fight against climate change.
But when Brussels face plants so spectacularly as it has this week, you have to wonder whether the Commission is an institution that really wants to save itself.