Just over 33 years ago Margaret Thatcher got “my money back” in the form of the British rebate on its contributions to the EU budget. But the fact that the UK still paid in more than it got back always rankled – and still does. So, Blustering Boris must have been loudly chuffed when he heard/read Günther Oettinger, EU budget commissioner, admit this week that Brexit could cost Brussels at least €12bn, maybe €20bn, a year. The hole in the “bloated bureaucracy’s spend” will, of course, be matched by a huge injection of funds into the NHS - £350m a week, Boris still insists against all available evidence.
Oettinger, never known for tightening his belt and no stranger to private jets, has set out a clutch of scenarios to fill the gap and three out of five mean cuts to the CAP much despised by the Brits. The €150bn EU budget has changed significantly since Thatcher’s 1984 triumph when the CAP took up over 70% (it’s now below 40%). But further cuts to farm subsidies will get those Breton paysans spreading their cauliflowers over autoroutes from Rennes to Paris – and great piles of ordure dumped outside President Macron’s Elysée just as he struggles to cut the French budget deficit below the sacred 3% limit. Oh well, maybe the College of Commissioners can accept a pay cut or lower pensions…Maggie’s Revenge!
Tomorrow (July 1) sees gallant little Estonia take over from even more gallant and littler Malta as EU presidency for the next six months. Just think, if it hadn’t been for that pesky Brexit vote of June 23 2016, it could have been Theresa May (and Arlene Foster) welcoming the Commission and assorted flunkeys, including journos and lobbyists, to London and lecturing the EU on the paramount need for austerity, subsidiarity, deregulation…Instead, after a Maltese incumbency hailed as a huge success (even if interrupted for a general election over corruption allegations), the Estonians are promising a pro-EU love-in – and a super-digital future.
Nord Stream 2
But the week’s big event will be the showdown in Hamburg next weekend between Angela Merkel and Donald J. Trump over pretty well everything, including that record €2.42bn fine on Google, when the German Chancellor hosts the G20 summit. That initial handshake will be a must see occasion. As will the first meeting between mortal foes, sorry, best of buddies, Presidents Vladimir Putin and Trump to discuss, one might guess, cyber security. (And bugging elections).
Actually, Merkel is on Putin’s side when it comes to one of those little-known but highly contentious issues that bedevil international relations: this time, a proposed gas pipeline known as Nord Stream 2 to be built by Russia’s Gazprom under the Baltic and emerging in…Germany. Trump is utterly hostile to it and the US Senate recently voted to up the ante on sanctions against Russia, threatening to fine any European company involved in NS2 (BASF, E.ON, Engie, OMV and Shell). Merkel, who backs Putin’s pipeline, and her cabinet have told Trump to get his tanks off their lawn; Vlad just watches smiling with that sphynx-like grin as he succeeds in his plan to split the EU apart on the issue and divide-and-rule.
The EU-27 may be united on Brexit but here it’s 13 member states that back Slovak energy union commissioner, Maros Sefkovic, and his plan for Brussels to negotiate with the Kremlin over NS2 – and the rest oppose or are sitting it out.
Finally, tomorrow also sees the special – and very divisive - memorial tribute (Festakt) to Merkel’s great mentor and architect of German and European unity, Helmut Kohl. It will take place in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, on the French side of the Rhine, with the ex-chancellor’s coffin draped in the EU flag… And, no doubt, in the intervals between speeches and hymns, the assembled dignitaries can discuss whether the Parliament should stay there at all or instead host the European Medicines Agency when it quits London post-Brexit. Already, French MEPs are threatening sit-downs, strikes… Brexit or no Brexit, Europe never changes.