hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 10 November 2014

Arresting Europe, Taxing Credulity

Alphen, Netherlands. 10 November. Abraham Lincoln once famously said, “The people when rightly and fully-trusted will return the trust”.  Tell that to the EU elite.  Recently, a senior member of the Dutch Senate and a fully paid-up member of the ‘we need more EU for everything’ brigade warned people against me at a public meeting.  He did so apparently because he said I had been “radicalised” in my concerns about the centralisation of distant power in the EU.  First, to equate me with Islamic terrorism is unacceptable.  Second, in a true democracy the job of the citizen-taxpayer is precisely to hold power to account. 

Naturally, I was informed of this attack by a reliable colleague as the individual in question lacked the integrity to tell me himself.  In a sense Mr Senator has made my point for me.  Indeed, it is precisely the growing intolerance of informed criticism by Europe’s elite that has turned me from a strong supporter of the EU into a taxpayer-citizen with profound concerns about reform, accountability and transparency in and of the EU.  This past week has reinforced my concerns.

EU reform: British Finance Minister George Osborne was dancing on the head of a pin when he claimed ‘victory’ in his attempts to reduce and offset the ‘surprise’ EU demand on the British citizen-taxpayer for an additional £1.7bn (€2.1bn).  The bill is in addition to the massive rise in Britain’s annual contribution to the EU from £3.7bn (€4.7bn) in 2009 to £11.3bn (€14.4bn) in 2013.  Moreover, the British citizen-taxpayer will be hit by an additional £655m (€834m) because the famous cut to the EU budget negotiated by David Cameron will be overturned by a European Parliament stock full of people who simply do not care that every penny they spend comes from ordinary citizen-taxpayers. 

Three simple truths are revealed by this latest British EU fiasco: the British taxpayer will indeed pay the £1.7bn; the twenty EU member-states who are ‘net receivers’ are perfectly happy with the current system; and the European Commission can always manipulate that basic divide to expand the EU budget and its own competence.  Indeed, David Cameron is fast becoming the Grand Old Duke of York of EU politics.  He marches the British people up to the top of the hill of promised EU reform only to march them down again when the extent of Britain’s and indeed his own impotence is revealed.  The EU is unreformable.

EU Accountability:  Last week a scandal broke that would once have led to resignations, not any more.  It was revealed that when European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was prime minister of Luxembourg his country permitted 340 major international companies to aggressively avoid tax.  The so-called “Lux-Leaks” document is now under investigation by the same European Commission that Juncker now heads making a mockery of his claims that he will bring some ‘ethics’ to EU tax laws. The bottom-line is that millions of ordinary European taxpayer-citizens were fleeced by this system as we all had to pay the tax Luxembourg helped big corporations avoid.  Mr Juncker should resign but he will of course not.  The EU elite are unaccountable.  

EU Transparency:  The tax surcharge imposed by the European Commission on the taxpayer-citizens of Britain, Cyprus, Italy and the Netherlands breaks all previous conventions on tax.  First, the specific method by which the surcharge was calculated by the European Commission lacks transparency (nothing new there then). Second, the entire principle of imposing back-tax directly or indirectly on ordinary taxpayer-citizens retrospectively is utterly without precedent.  Third and worst of all, the 'value' of crime has been estimated and added to national wealth.  For tax to be imposed the taxpayer-citizen must have benefitted from a service that is legal.  In effect, the European Commission is taxing the victims of crime.  As a precedent this departure is quite simply outrageous and demonstrates all too clearly the lengths to which the EU will now go to transfer wealth.   The EU is insatiable.

Worse, the European taxpayer-citizen is about to be become more vulnerable to unfettered and unaccountable power.  Today in London the House of Commons will debate whether or not Britain opts back into the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).  Implicit in this debate is a fundamental question about where power, accountability and law should reside.  On the face of it the EAW makes sense because it speeds extradition between EU member-states.  However, when taken together the EAW and the new taxation reflect two dangerous precedents that accelerate the drift towards European confederation.  First, those who designed the European Arrest Warrant see the eventual goal as a single EU legal jurisdiction and a single EU legal prosecutor.  In other words, the EAW is yet another example of the drip-by-drip destruction of national sovereignty that is eroding both the European state and European democracy.  Second, a fundamental breach has taken place this past week in the relationship between taxation, benefit and representation.   

Abraham Lincoln believed that as central power grew it inevitably became more corrupt.  He also believed that freedom is best served when power is as close to the taxpayer-citizen as possible reinforced by real checks and balances.  Now, I have no problem with my hard-earned money helping transform lives and places but it must be proportionate, fair, transparent, and used efficiently for the right purposes.  The EU simply does not pass those tests or indeed the Lincoln test.  

This past week had two Europes on offer.  There was the Europe of hope reflected in celebrations to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall and those few heady days in November 1989 when everything seemed possible.  There was also that other, elite EU Europe demonstrating yet again just how far they have moved Europe from hope and idealism towards cynicism in the intervening years.  If such an observation makes me ‘radicalised’ for challenging power then so be it.  In my book the right to question power in a democracy is called freedom, Mr Senator.  But then again I am just a mere citizen-taxpayer and I should really leave politics to you politicians.  Really?

Julian Lindley-French

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