Anneliese Dodds MEP

The South East's Voice in Europe

Unhelpful intervention and cynical response

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Overnight the news broke that the European Commission has asked for the UK to stump up an extra £1.7bn in payments towards the EU Budget.

This is because there had been a discrepancy in the way the numbers were previously calculated.

Some other countries find themselves in a similar position to the UK (such as the Netherlands, which is being asked for over £400m in extra payments), while others - like France and Germany - will get a refund.

Now, countries in the EU are supposed to contribute to its budget in relation to the size of their economy, which is a fair principle. If the underlying numbers change, then the amount that each country pays in should change too.

But those newspaper headlines aren't entirely out of order, all the same. Why was this announced at such short notice, at a time when anyone with even the slightest interest in European politics knows that this is a pretty controversial area? It's the kind of intervention that seems destined to help the Eurosceptic cause and leave pro-Europeans with their head in their hands, as a mishandled process story becomes the order of the day and drowns out matters of substance.

And there have been major matters of substance discussed in recent days. As I stated earlier in the week, vast swathes of potential money for UK research and development were lost from the EU budget - while money for the wasteful second seat in Strasbourg, and the hugely controversial Common Agricultural Policy remained. Yesterday the Council reached an agreement on climate and energy targets; it may have been less ambitious than we hoped, but it was a step forward nonetheless. And today Member States are discussing what to do in order to stem the horrifying spread of Ebola.

An important issue which has been ignored in the media storm around this announcement is that the UK is entitled to money from the EU which we are not claiming. This money would support food banks, deal with the aftermath of devastating floods, and ensure that young people have access to good quality jobs -- but the coalition government isn't taking it. The UK is the only country in the EU which has decided not to be part of the Youth Guarantee -- a decision which is inexplicable given there are over 700,000 unemployed young people in the UK.

Those are all issues that make an enormous difference to people's lives, and to the future of Europe. And they have been overshadowed by an attempt to rectify an accounting mistake which just gives hardline Eurosceptics another chance to rehearse their tired old arguments - arguments which we know from polling this week do not convince the British public.

On top of all of this is the rumour that the Conservative-led government knew about all of this last week. If that is true, why on earth did they say nothing? Did they hope the issue would go away so they wouldn't get dragged into another fight with UKIP? Or did they actually want it to emerge in this way, so that David Cameron could look like Britain's hero, demanding an emergency meeting of Finance Ministers at the eleventh hour?

Whichever of those tactics they were pursuing, it hasn't worked. The issue hasn't gone away. And David Cameron doesn't appear heroic; he appears panicked - looking back over his shoulder at a party that has poached Clacton off him and is driving him into ever more extreme positions.

No one emerges well from this. The Commission has given fuel to its enemies at a highly delicate time. The Conservatives have tried to play a dangerous game and lost. And now no one can hear the conversations about climate change and Ebola, which should be headline news. Thanks to the Commission's clumsiness, and the Conservatives' cynicism, we all lose.

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