Last week at a dinner to discuss the a new age of austerity sweeping the EU, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy proudly distributed an all-singing-all-dancing full colour glossy document to excited delegates. But what did it contain? The masterplan to abolish EU sovereign debt in a rigorous yet sustainable manner? An unprecedented investment in educational standards throughout the Union? A new directive to ensure apples confirm to a strict circumference?
Despite excessive lobbying by this particular commentator for the latter, it was, unfortunately, none of these things.
Instead, the pamphlet detailed plans for a new home to house the European Council. The proposed Brussels building takes the form a 13-story glass annex containing the principal structure – a colossal pear shaped organ, affectionately known in EU circles as the “E-Uterus”. This Uterus will contain a mixture of offices and side rooms for the 27 member state delegations, the official office of the President as well as a number of meeting rooms complete with colourful “diversity” carpets to represent the eclectic nature of European populations.
Such luxuries cost the princely sum of £280 million with a direct contribution from the UK taxpayer of approximately £25 million. All this at a time when the Eurozone is gripped in its biggest crisis to date. Greece is currently being forced to swallow the harshest package of tax rises and service cuts ever witnessed in the history of the Euro. Meanwhile, most Northern Europeans are scratching their heads at the continuous bailout requests from the likes of Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
The European Union cannot act as a credible body in debating such measures when it continues to live beyond its means. Such double standards must end. It is completely inconceivable that any country in the EU could justify a new multi-million euro home for their representatives whilst tackling the fallout from the credit crunch at home.
Supporters of the new building argue that the current offices, designed to house the 15 member states of the time, can no longer cope with the 12 new member states that have since taken their seats at the council. It is also argued that the decision to go ahead with the project, agreed during Tony Blair’s time in office, can no longer be reversed. Both these arguments must be rebutted with vigour.
Firstly, the EU must be acutely aware of what the people it represents are experiencing. There appears to be a feeling in Brussels that, because vocal critics of EU spending projects are not on their doorstep, the decisions of the Union are immune from public outcry.
This is not the case. In the months and years to come, governments will begin to depend more and more upon the institutions of the EU for a unified and effective response to the changing world economy. As this happens, the operation and moral standing of the EU will come under the spotlight more than ever before. There would therefore be great benefit in halting the project in its tracks in order to set an example for how governance should be conducted in times of hardship.
There is also no justification changing something which isn’t broken. The current building, in the words of David Cameron, “seems to do a perfectly good job”. As any family knows, the arrival of new members does put indeed strain on existing homes but (as any family also knows) fixes can be found with economy and efficiency – this mantra must be adopted in Europe. Designs already purchased for the new conference rooms could one day be used to update the existing building (don’t panic, the diversity carpet could survive), whilst refurbishment and reorganisation could also prolong the lifespan of the present European Council offices. Money will be lost, but this will be far outweighed by the eventual savings and the symbolic message such a move would give.
Action must therefore be taken immediately and there is no reason why such action cannot be taken in this country – we are, after all, a country familiar with the concept of euroscepticism. Although MPs, Ministers, even the PM, have spoken out about the project (the latter dubbing the building as a “Gilded Cage”), it must face a more robust response from the Conservative Party. Denouncement is not enough.
It is only right that the British public are alerted to this ludicrous spending project so that bureaucrats in Brussels know that the actions they take are heard loud and clear by those they serve. Such a move must be led by the right leaning press and the Conservative Party itself. People must aware of the crippling double standards currently present in the EU and how it costs countries dear.
Only after this project is scrapped can the EU honestly and confidently go about assisting its members in implementing the austerity measures necessary to re-balance the European economy.