Open Europe Blog

So MEPs yesterday voted for a resolution to reject the recent deal struck by member states on the EU’s long-term budget “in its current form”. The motion included calls to scrap all national rebates, more flexibility between budget headings, direct EU taxes and a mandatory mid-term review conducted under QMV – i.e. member states would lose their vetoes. 

So how did UK MEPs vote? 

For differing reasons, the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP all voted against the resolution. The Tories and Labour accepted the spending limits agreed by member states while UKIP rejected them on the basis they are still too high. However, Lib Dem MEPs followed the ALDE whip and voted in favour of the resolution:

In their defence, they claimed that:

“Liberal Democrat MEPs today supported the size of the EU’s multi-annual financial framework deal reached by Member States last month. They also supported moves to renegotiate the shape of the budget to make it more flexible and focused on areas that will bring jobs and growth to the UK, such as investments in R&D, innovation and infrastructure.”

They have a point. Increasing spending on R&D is laudable (we’ve also made this point repeatedly) and more flexibility to move cash around within the budget is clearly desirable. However, while Lib Dem MEPs may accept the size of the budget, it is slightly disingenuous to claim that they actively supported it because the motion did not explicitly state this, unlike a separate motion put forward by the ECR group. The EP’s position on the size of the budget was left intentionally vague so that the motion could gain the support of a majority of MEPs, ranging from the centre-right EPP to the Green and far-left groups.

The motion also included calls for direct EU taxes and scrapping the UK rebate, despite Nick Clegg insisting that the coalition would “protect the British rebate in full”. If Lib Dem MEPs agree then surely abstention would have been a better option, or alternatively tabling their own amendment. With UK public opinion (and Westminster) overwhelmingly united in favour of the budget cut prioritising internal ALDE politics could backfire on them.

Fascinatingly, if successful, the demand for a mid-term revision of the MFF under QMV could trigger a referendum. The UK’s European Union Act of 2011 contains a ‘referendum lock’ if certain areas of policy move from unanimity to QMV. This includes Article 312(2) TFEU, i.e. the passerelle or ‘ratchet clause’ – which is explicitly referenced in the motion.

While we don’t expect member states to agree to the revision, we wonder if Lib Dem MEPs were aware of the possible implications of their vote?

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