Mike speaks out on EU budget

Here is my speech in the debate on the European Muti Annual Financial Framework debate in Parliament 



31 Oct 2012 : Column 326    5.59 

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): You and I, Mr Deputy Speaker, were both Members of this House in 1992-93, when I was one of those pro-Europeans who followed my pro-European party leader, John Smith, and the spokesman for foreign affairs, Lord Robertson, into the Lobby with people whom I would never have described as having the same view as me on Europe and its future. The same thing will happen this evening, but I wish to make it clear that I do so not because I agree with the tenor and tone of the many Europhobic speeches we have heard from Government Members—and some, unfortunately, from this side of the House—but because I believe it is wrong for the European Union to increase its spending at a time when national budgets, not just in this country but in Greece, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere, are being reduced.

This is not the most important debate about the future of Europe that we will face, and we must put it into perspective. Although there is talk of billions of pounds and euros, the EU budget is only 1% of the GDP of all member states. In this country, public spending accounts for more than 40% of our GDP each year, and we must put into perspective the fact that the EU’s total spend is very small.

In his introductory remarks, the Minister referred to the size of the Commission. I was unable to intervene at that point, but let me place on the record that the European Commission has, in total, between 30,000 and 33,000 employees who serve 27 member states. The Minister’s Department in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs alone has about 80,000 employees, and we must get such things into perspective. We do not have a gargantuan European Union bureaucracy hoovering up resources; in fact, the UK Government spend five times as much servicing the interest on the national debt each year than they do in European Union contributions.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is talking about the administration of the European Commission, which at 30,000 employees I think is still too large. The bulk of the EU budget goes on redistributing money, typically from net contributors such as the United Kingdom to other parts of Europe. Does he feel that we need a little more restraint in that respect as well?

Mike Gapes: I agree with that, but I also point out that the UK contribution to the European Union is less than that of Germany. Our net contribution—with the rebate that was retained by the previous Labour Government—is comparable to that made by France, a similar country in terms of size, population and GDP. We are among the net contributors, but the European Union is also about solidarity. One thing that led to the growth of the European Union, and the increased trade and prosperity from which British workers and British companies benefit, is the fact that countries such as Spain and Portugal—and, increasingly, countries such as Slovenia—are growing and benefiting by their membership of the EU.

The EU also makes a contribution to democracy and stability in Europe, for which the Nobel prize committee has rightly—[ Interruption. ] Oh I see. Here they are; here is the real agenda. The Nobel prize committee has rightly recognised the European Union’s contribution to peace in Europe over the decades. If somebody like Henry Kissinger can get the Nobel peace prize, the European Union certainly deserves it.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend share my hope that the EU—some time, and perhaps this century—will get the Nobel prize for economics?

Mike Gapes: I would hope that my right hon. Friend and I—we are of a similar age—will live long enough to see that, but I do not think it will happen immediately. It will require the eurozone to become much more tightly organised than it is today.

Last week, I visited Germany and Norway with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. We are considering the future of Europe and the implications for this country of different options that might arise. Two or three years ago, the political debate in Germany was about trying to keep Britain on board and to move with Britain. However, the reality, right across the political spectrum, is that Germany has given up on the UK under the coalition Government. The Germans see their future as being with France and Poland, and their priority will be to save the eurozone at all costs.

That means that the UK will be in an uncomfortable position. The Prime Minister might have signed a joint letter with European leaders in 2010, but the reality in 2012-13 is that Germany is not with us. Anybody who thinks that only Germany is not with us should read the remarks of Radek Sikorski, the Polish Foreign Minister, who gave a radical speech in Oxford just a few weeks ago, in which he used phrases such as:

“Poland wants to be with Germany and France as partners”.

He also said:“You could, if only you wished, lead Europe’s defence policy…Britain’s leaders need to decide once again how best to use their influence in Europe…The EU is an English-speaking power. The Single Market was a British idea. A British commissioner runs our diplomatic service…But if you refuse, please don’t expect us to help you wreck or paralyze the EU.”

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mike Gapes: I cannot—I have very little time.

The Polish and German Governments and many others want the UK to stay in the EU as partners, but they will not wreck the EU to keep us. We need to realise that our options are narrowing. The Government are in danger of taking us into an isolationist position.


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