European Community Budgets

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:21 pm on 11th December 1984.

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Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Livingston 6:21 pm, 11th December 1984

I wondered for a moment whether I had entered into an agreement with the Minister that, if he gave way to me twice, I should not attempt to speak in the debate. I am relieved that I still reserve the right to speak.

The Minister, in conclusion, painted a glowing picture of the past 18 months as a progress of triumph, suggesting that the EEC has retired to a succession of summits for meditation and negotiation and has emerged from that process strenghtened, purified and with a new commitment to relaunch the Community and its objectives. I find it extremely difficult to recognise that picture in the documents that litter the Table from which I am speaking. Those documents paint a picture of an institution that is in financial shambles. It is stumbling towards the end of 1984 grasping for temporary expedients to keep the cash flow. The expedient on which it has hit to get to the end of this year is a whip-round of member states. It is not clear whether that whip-round is a loan or a grant. When he spoke to the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury described it as a reimbursable advance. As the Committee elicited from the Economic Secretary, it is an advance, but it is by no means clear whether it is reimbursable. However it is described, it is clear that there is a large gap in the budget for 1984 which has been plugged only by payments from sources outwith the resources of the treaty and by a special arrangement.

It is difficult not to agree with the Court of Auditors' statement that the Commission's estimate of a shortfall of more than £1.6 billion in its original calculations is evidence of the need for greater accuracy in the preparation of original budget estimates". We do not find such "greater accuracy" in the 1985 budget. The draft budget provides sufficient revenue to meet expenditure for the first 10 months of the financial year. A letter, attached to the draft budget, expresses the hope that, on arrival at the last two months of the year, some way will have been found of meeting expenditure. It is extraordinary that a responsible public institution should enter the financial year on such a basis. If Hackney or Islington borough council introduced such a budget for the forthcoming year, Treasury Ministers would be the first to denounce them as introducing an illegal and irresponsible deficit budget.

In these documents we see an institution that is wallowing in a financial crisis that is deeper than anything that it has experienced since the relaunch of the Community in Stuttgart 18 months ago. Against that background we must judge the wider issues, to some of which the Minister addressed himself. The Minister did not address himself to one document. That perplexed me, as the document was before the Government at the summit only last week and it received the attention of the Council when it met in Dublin. As the Minister failed to refer to it, perhaps I can help to redress the balance. I refer, of course, to the document prepared by the Dooge committee. It prepares the way for European unity. It is impossible to take exception to elements of that report. Section 2, for example, has a chapter headed, The Promotion of the Common Values of Civilisation. I do not think that even the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) would take exception to such a document. However, it is clear that the document tends towards European union. That is made clear in chapter 4, which consists of only two paragraphs and calls on the European Council to agree to an intergovernmental conference to negotiate a draft European union treaty. The report is studded with footnotes bearing the name of the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who, I understand, is a member of the committee. There is a footnote attached to chapter 4. I looked down the page eagerly to see what reservations the Minister had entered against the proposal, only to discover that his reserve is founded on the ground that the proposal is premature in an interim report. I had expected a more substantive reservation about a provision for European union. I do not know about the Minister, but I am not entirely confident that such a proposal would find a majority in the House. If we were to take a snap vote of those right hon. and hon. Members who are present, the Minister might be in some difficulty.