If all government spending was subject to the same amount of scrutiny the EU budget is then maybe the world (certainly public finances) would be in a better state.
Watching EU member states labour over what accounts for a mere 1% of government spending makes one wonder. Some of the statesmen and stateswomen who point the finger at EU spending are the same people that have managed to amass massive debts and run huge deficits at home. But they whip the EU budget (which has never over-spent or run a deficit) like a tired donkey under the Mediterranean sun, with a holier-than-thou attitude often dripping with hypocrisy.
The EU budget is not perfect; especially the way it is raised leaves a lot to be desired. But what gets missed in the current debate is the good the EU budget does. 94% of that 1% of EU GDP is invested, the vast majority straight back into member states and the remaining towards development assistance in third countries.
The money goes towards supporting rural areas and helping the poorer regions around Europe. It creates jobs and growth, putting money into people’s pockets.
Estimates for 2009 are that the number employed was 5.6 million higher as a result of EU cohesion policy spending in 2000-2006. GDP in the EU-25 has been 0.7% higher in 2009 due to EU cohesion policy investments during the same period. This is estimated to rise to 4% by 2020.
In Britain alone EU funding has created 117.391 new jobs and supported 207.662 SMEs from 2000 to 2006.
The EU budget also supports Research and Development, with the UK being a major beneficiary. According to Research Councils UK “funding from the European budget for research and innovation is a valuable funding stream for UK research, with the UK receiving the second largest share of the funding after Germany (14.9% or nearly €4 billion in the period until June 2012)”.
The EU budget also helps protect wildlife in Britain, with 75% of the £450 million spent annually on Environmental Stewardship schemes in England coming directly from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. This money helps repair much of the damage caused by intensification of agriculture; without it, for example, the recovery of the rare cirl bunting would have been otherwise impossible, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
Savings are of course always welcome and the EU civil service has been an easy target, called “wasteful”, “expensive”, “over-bloated”. Such adjectives ignore that only 6% of the EU budget goes to administration and it pays for 55,000 civil servants, who serve 500 million EU citizens. Compare that with the 1 million Brummies the 60.000 Birmingham civil servants serve and it all of the sudden sounds like value for money. But those facts aside, it is unfair and disingenuous to say that EU administration and those “evil” eurocrats have been immune to cuts. Administrative reform undertaken just 7 years ago has already saved EU taxpayers €3 billion, and it is expected to generate another €5 billion in savings by 2020. Salaries and pensions have been cut, retirement age has been raised, working hours have increased and all that with recruitment frozen while the EU went from 15 to 27 member states.
So the debate around the EU budget is disingenuous, light on facts, focused on the wrong thing and ultimately too much hassle for not that much money. It is of course a handy destruction from the real malaises member states suffer from and a good opportunity for grant-standing and EU-bashing.
What we should be really talking about is how the EU budget is raised. Today we have found ourselves in the perverse situation where about 85% of the budget comes from member states’ contributions (if one also takes the value added tax resource in account).
That was never the intention and the European Union Treaty actually states that “the EU budget shall be financed wholly from own recourses”. Instead, the current system has created a complex web of political compromises between member states – made up of rebates, exceptions and correction mechanisms. These are based on the “fair return” principle, which sets in opposition the so-called “net contributors” to “net recipients”. Everybody wants a piece of the EU budget and one way or the other everyone must get their fair share, ignoring often the common good.
It is imperative we replace this opaque system with something that resembles what the treaty originally intended. Allowing the EU to raise its own resources would signal an end to the clientelistic relationship between the Union and its member countries (for ideas how see a previous article). It will free the EU to focus on things that can serve the collective interest of the Union, rather than the sum of the national interests of its member states. It will allow it to invest even more in green technologies, research and development, telecommunications infrastructure, interconnection of energy grids (as well as financial assistance for poor regions and struggling farmers) measures that increase competitiveness and intra-EU trade, create more jobs and growth.
This is the conversation we should be having. But attacking those eurocrats is always more fun.
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About: European Movement UK
The origins of the European Movement
The origins of the European Movement lie in the aftermath of the Second World War. More than eight hundred delegates from across Europe gathered in The Hague in May 1948, under the chairmanship of Sir Winston Churchill, to create a new international movement to unite Europe and prevent further wars between its members. The British section of the European Movement was founded a year later.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the European Movement put forward the arguments for joining the European Economic Community, and it ran a major campaign in the early 1970s, both among the general public and in parliament, to win the battle for entry. In 1975, during the referendum on membership, the European Movement played a central role in the YES campaign. Other campaigns since then have included pressing for direct elections to the European Parliament in the 1970s and promoting the benefits of the single market in the run-up to 1992.
During the 1990s, the organisation became revitalised around the need to create a new national pro-European coalition. The rise in anti-European feeling threatens to undermine Britain's place in the European Union; our exclusion from the first wave of countries joining the euro is an example of how we lose out when the pro-European case is not put strongly enough in public.
Aims and activities
The European Movement is
- A rallying point: The European Movement rallies all those who believe that European unity is vital where the peoples of Europe have interests in common such as increased trade to improve economic prosperity, an improved environment to tackle climate change, and action to combat global poverty. A politically united Europe is needed to sweep aside the petty tribalism that has historically, at the very least, been an obstacle to progress or, at its worst, has led to bitter conflict and a catastrophic loss of human life. Europe must be united as a region of law, justice and democracy, equipped with the institutions capable of achieving these ends. Members receive a regular newsletter, euromove, with information and news about Pro-European developments. In addition, the office publishes updates on campaign ideas and issues an e-mail newsletter, e-News. Members take part in lively discussions in person and online, and the European Movement maintains an informative website.
- A campaign: The Movement has since its creation in 1948 sought to build and maintain public support for the unity of Europe. In the face of a backward-looking nationalist resurgence in some quarters, this role is as vital as ever. The campaigns include public information points, working with the media, and lobbying MPs and other decision-makers. In addition to the work of the London office, the branches and national councils organise campaign activities in their own areas, as well as political discussions and social events for members.
- A pressure group: The creation of the European Union has been an extraordinary achievement - democratic, sovereign states have created a common institutional framework in order to forge a future together based on the rule of law. But the European Movement is not the Union's information service or an apologist for its weaknesses. It must work to win support for the reforms necessary to improve its ability to meet the hopes and aspirations of its peoples.