The loss of Britain’s financial contributions is exacerbating the East-West divisions in the EU, writes Peter Divey
The EU’s internal bickering is becoming steadily more evident, and Eastern European nations seem to be taking the brunt. Donald Tusk, a Pole himself, says that trust in Poland has gone, that Poland is aligning itself too closely with Russia. Some have chided Tusk for these comments but Tusk clearly wanted to be sensational, to send a shot across Poland’s bow, a measure of his concern and frustration. Guy Verhofstadt was his usual grandstanding self. Under the banner of “values” he demanded that Hungary and Poland leave the EU if they do not wish to meet prescribed ideals. Illiberal states will not be tolerated and nationalist ideas are prejudiced. Bulgaria has now taken on the role of the rotating Presidency, marked by protests and the burning of EU flags. Eastern nations are ignored and marginalised say the rabble-rousers in Sofia.
I thought it strange that Austria has not been mentioned, their right-wing Nationalist Government must be of the correct liberal type. On the same day that Farage met Barnier and shared a coffee, Jean-Claude Juncker admitted that Brexit seemed more likely than not, and under his watch the EU would be diminished. But Juncker had a plan for the EU to look East once more, sweeping up parts of the Western Balkans into the club to offset the loss of Britain.
The biggest immediate dilemma of Brexit is now rising to prominence. Money. And Juncker was back to cajoling and pressuring. Everyone must step up and pay more, but some rather more than others. He was incredulous about the possibility of a smaller EU having a smaller budget as now is not the time to tighten the belt with so much to do. It is never the time said some, and Austria loudly said that they would pay no more. For the price of a daily coffee, each citizen was receiving the wonders of the EU Surely a bargain proclaimed Juncker, having already awarded himself a tasty pay rise and benefits package the week before.
Verhofstadt’s easy dismissal of Hungary and Poland suddenly made sense. They are net budget recipients, Poland the biggest of any. No punishment, no talk of huge payments or legal dues, as easy as you like. A burden gone. Now there is talk of “pay to play”, with Britain being asked to contribute a hefty sum to access the EU financial markets. Unusually, Theresa May has already made an unequivocal refusal. Quite right. Hammond of course said that nothing is off the table. The City of London bank-rolls the extravagance and debt of the profligate EU with no one else able to raise the massive capital required. Poland, with its eye on the prize of an ever generous EU has altered its stance already, sacking ministers and holding an amicable meeting with Juncker even as it refuses to withdraw judicial reforms. The wrong values. Verhofstadt had the last word and in a less than subtle dig about Brexit said that any nation that chose to stand alone would surely “fail”. But even he is fast recognising that replacing “Treasure Island” with leeching, fiscally needy Balkan Nations is not a good swap, no matter the exactitude of their values. The bickering may yet develop into a difficult to contain row. Bring it on.