One of the alarming aspects of last week’s demand that Britain must pay an additional £1.7 billion into EU funds was that no one apparently saw it coming. If a recalculation of gross national income has uncovered an underpayment by the UK, why did it come as such a surprise to everyone including David Cameron?
It suggests that the government has either misunderstood the calculation process or it is feigning shock and outrage for political purposes. Given that new gross national income (GNI) figures for 1995 to 2014 were published by the Office for National Statistics (the government’s own statistics watchdog) back in May, the Treasury would surely have known that a higher surcharge for the UK was on the cards.
When the European Court of Auditors publishes its annual report on the budget next week, it will no doubt reveal substantial levels of error in the accounts (as it always does). Given that EU member states are responsible for managing 80% of EU funds, and given that the UK is apparently among the five worst offenders, it all reflects badly on George Osborne.
It may be that incompetence at the Treasury is at the root of all this, but, even if that were the case, it should not deflect attention away from the disturbing wastefulness of the EU bureaucratic machine. The cost of EU quangos is still rising inexorably and many of their functions simply duplicate work already carried out by member states. Much of the EU budget is also still subject to an iniquitous system of subsidies. Whatever strange games the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are playing, we must continue to insist on knowing where the EU money is going and why it is not spent more effectively.