This is a budget so riddled with fraud and malpractice that in 18 years it has never been given a clean bill of health by the European Court of Auditors. Bear in mind, moreover, that this Court is itself an EU institution, with nothing like the resources it needs to invigilate the local politicians, farmers, business people and all-purpose crooks who are in receipt of funding from us all.
According to this toothless Luxembourg watchdog, there are at least 5.2 billion euros that go astray every year — and the proportion is rising again, not falling. The bureaucrats speak plaintively of a certain Spanish sheep farmer they came across. “A farmer was granted a special premium for 150 sheep. The court found that the beneficiary did not have any sheep. The corresponding payment was irregular.”
Irregular! It wasn’t irregular — it was a swindle. It was theft from you and me. You only have to imagine the ludicrous scene, of Luxembourg officials scrabbling over some dusty Spanish hillside in search of 150 non-existent merinos to see that they have only scratched the surface of the abuse.
There are fields that are forests that are meant to be farmed. There are forests that are meant to be fields, and we are paying subsidy for both. Last year the Commission itself confessed that EU spending on Romania — €515 million — had been almost all the subject of fraud or abuse of one kind or another. Hand on heart, said Brussels, it looked as though only about 10 per cent of the cash had got through to legitimate destinations. The EU budget will never be properly policed because the cash doesn’t properly belong to any nation — it belongs to “everybody”. And since it belongs to everybody, each individual country cynically reasons that there isn’t that much harm if its own citizens quietly loot as much of it as they reasonably can.
Which leaves it to the central EU institutions to try to police this Ottoman structure. They don’t have a hope. It is no particular comfort to learn that the Health Commissioner, a Maltese called John Dalli, has just resigned under a cloud, amid allegations of an attempt to rig a decision in favour of some Swedish snuff tycoons. Meanwhile, here are the officials of the EU Commission, arriving in Athens in their taxpayer-funded executive jets, with their message of hardship for the people of Greece. They wag their fingers at the Greeks, and tell them that they must mend their ways.
They must stop the waste and the fraud, says the EU Commission, before they have any hope of more bail-out funds. And yet these same EU officials preside over a vast and larcenous abuse of public funds, and now have the effrontery to tell us that they need a massive above-inflation increase to pay, inter alia, for the great unreformed caravanserai between Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg.
There is absolutely nothing to be lost from a veto. It may be impossible to cut the budget, since there is no other country actively proposing this excellent option. But there is no reason at all why EU spending should not be frozen exactly where it is.
The worst that can happen is that the existing budget will be rolled over, a month at a time. It is time for David Cameron to put on that pineapple-coloured wig and powder blue suit, whirl his handbag round his head and bring it crashing to the table with the words no, non, nein, neen, nee, ne, ei and ochi, until they get the message.