Britain’s EU rebate: Blair’s phoney war

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After the No votes in France and Holland for the new European constitution, a storm suddenly blew up over the British rebate and the spending on the CAP (the common agricultural policy of the EU). These well worn themes were rolled out by the French and British bourgeoisie to distract attention from the complete failure of the European states to convince their populations of the benefits of the European ‘project’.

The media played up to this. The Evening Standard newspaper in London even had a headline: “Now it’s war with France”. Except in the most serious of the bourgeoisie’s newspapers, this theme of confrontation between Britain and France blanked out any consideration of the significance of the demise of the constitution.

It’s certainly true that the victory of the No vote has unchained many of the inbuilt national rivalries that make the project of a truly United Europe an impossible fantasy. Both the British and the French certainly had their own conflicting agendas behind the rebate row. But the artificial stoking up of this difference also served both countries.

Since Britain has assumed the European presidency, Blair has been outlining his vision of a new dynamic Europe, with the money presently spent on the CAP being diverted to more modern sectors of the economy, to make Europe more competitive at a world level. This sounds statesmanlike, and has the advantage of still ignoring the question of the defeat of the constitution. Blair has even implied that the British rebate could be given up if the European budget is given different priorities – which is a pretty safe offer, since there is no real danger of that happening.

The Business newspaper gave a precise summation of what is actually under discussion in Blair’s new vision for Europe. They first noted that the EU budget is presently limited to one per cent of European gross national income (GNI), then observed:

At present, agricultural subsidies make up about 40% of the EU Budget, or 0.4% of EU national income. Even if the share devoted to farmers were miraculously halved, this would only free up a pathetic 0.2% of Europe’s GNI to be spent on other, more worthwhile things; yet it is on this basis that Mr Blair believes Europe can be transformed and its people reinvigorated with European spirit. Strip away the Blairite rhetoric and you end up with a familiar empty vessel.” Hardin