Within the next year, the UK Government (whoever it will be) will find itself in crucial negotiations over the next EU 'financial framework', which will decide who pays what into the EU budget over the period 2014 to 2020.
You will remember that Tony Blair sealed the deal on the current financial framework (2007 to 2013) back in December 2005, giving up £7 billion of our rebate in return for what turned out to be an empty promise about reform of the CAP. Cheers Tony.
In order that we don't make the same mistake again, politicians of all colours need to be thinking carefully about a new way of negotiating, and what exactly we want from the talks.
So it was good to see the Tories trying to raise the subject with the Government in Parliament yesterday. Unfortunately, Europe Minister Chris Bryant wasn't remotely interested in discussing the issue. This is despite the fact that the huge problems with the EU budget go right to the heart of many people's criticism of the EU. We desperately need to start talking sensibly about what it is the Government and also the Opposition intend to do about the budget.
But instead we get:
Philip Davies (Con): Given that the accounts of the EU have not been signed off by the auditors for 15 years running, why do the Government keep giving more and more money to the EU? Surely if the Government are serious about reform of the EU budget, they should say that the EU will not get a penny more from the British Government until it gets its accounts properly audited.
Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that if we were to follow his policy, which is to get out of the EU, it would significantly harm British interests. He knows perfectly well, too, that, as the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, David Frost said only a few weeks ago: "Business", by which he meant British business, "wants a pragmatic approach to the EU, not an ideological one" such as the hon. Gentleman's.
Great - thanks for that.
This follows the Government's refusal to publish forecasts for how much the UK will pay into and get out of the EU budget beyond 2010-2011, following a request by David Heathcoat-Amory MP. How can we possibly formulate a strategy for negotiating a better deal for British (and indeed European) taxpayers if the Government won't acknowledge there's a problem, won't engage in the debate, and won't even let us know how the land will lie in a year's time?