Richard North, 13/09/2004  

Everything was going swimmingly, with Gordon Brown happily chirping away that the "argument was going Britain’s way" and that the removal of the rebate was "non-negotiable".

But now Europe minister Denis MacShame has stepped in, saying that Britain's rebate remains "fully justified". We are now doomed. It is only a matter of time before Britain loses it completely.

His case was not helped by him citing figures from the commission which he claimed showed that Britain’s had the largest net contribution to EU. It doesn’t – German does, even if we pay 3.8 billion euros compared with 1.7 billion from France and 1.1 billion from Italy.

Furthermore, what McShame does not understand is that the component of our contribution paid through tariffs and levies collected at our borders have never been accepted as a British contribution, but a "community" resource, so that there is no agreement on the size of the net contribution.

Nevertheless, McShame argues that the problem is not where the money comes from but how it is spent: "What we have to look at is reforming the 100 billion euros that the EU spends each year," he said, unaware that as soon as that money is "saved" the commission has other designs on it, not least the 10 billion euros a year expenditure it is recommending on space research, 60 percent of which will go to French companies or consortiums.

MacShame also cited French government figures indicating that if Britain lost its rebate, each British citizen would pay 15 times as much as each French citizen. "There isn’t a single one of my friends in France who thinks that is a fair or sensible policy," he said.

Odd friends the man has. Most Frenchmen I know regard it as the natural order of things that France should be the major beneficiary of the EU, and that Britain (and Germany) should pay the bills. That is what the EEC was originally designed to do, and they see no reason why it should change.

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