One trillion euros is a great deal of money. Understandably, how it should be spent has the potential to be a matter of considerable controversy. Last week, the European Union demonstrated just how considerable that really is: the summit to agree spending for the next seven years collapsed without even a whisper of a deal. Another is scheduled for the new year, but many expect that, yet again, it will lead to nothing.
Of late, it seems that negotiations have not been entered into with the sense of commonality that the post-war architects of the union envisaged. Perhaps they were too optimistic.
It appears that national interest still looms large in the minds of prime ministers and presidents, and that the reactions of national electorates are second-guessed almost hourly. Given the difficult background of these talks, that is not altogether surprising. However, it makes the need for a sensible deal all the more pressing: Europe cannot afford more financial uncertainty.
For once, David Cameron’s position makes a certain sense. In pressing for spending cuts, the British delegation points out that the European Commission would do well to take a dose of its own medicine.
If the Greeks and the Italians can work until the age of 68, surely it would not kill eurocrats to do the same. And perhaps the European taxpayer can do without projects such as the €20m Parliamentarium visitors’ centre. The fact that the Germans, Dutch and Scandinavians took a similar line shows that we may not be as isolated as some would like to believe.
The trouble is, every country has its own pet project. The UK takes discussion of Thatcher’s rebate rather personally, while threats to agricultural subsidies tend to get the French into a right tizzy about catastrophic effects on their artichoke farmers or some such. In a union of twenty-seven countries, cutting anything is bound to upset someone.
The EU needs something of a reawakening. It needs to rediscover its purpose. That it won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize demonstrates that history may yet be kind, but in the current round of talks we are struggling to see the wood for the trees. In future, switching focus from the petty to the more profound would do a battered continent the power of good.