Open Europe Blog

When the Commission talks about the EU budget, it’s always worth taking their “facts” with a pinch of salt – they have a record of spinning the figures pretty shamelessly.  

The issue of the EU budget is refusing to go away – the torturous discussions over the 2014 – 2020 financial framework have only been deferred, while the European Parliament and member states are still at war over the 2012 and 2013 annual budgets. However, rather than working on constructive proposals to trim expenditure, EU Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski (pictured) seems to be conducting a PR campaign in favour of greater EU spending.

And you guessed it, he’s being generous with the truth. 

In an interview with Bild, he made a few points that were either highly contestable or outright factually incorrect. Here is our quick fisk of some of his arguments:

Bild: Why is the Commission not making any savings?
Lewandowski: That is not quite true. With regard to 2013 our proposal is consistent in real terms, which means we are only seeking an adjustment in line with inflation. 

Lewandowski is being disingenuous – the latest draft for the 2013 budget forward by the Commission foresees a 6.7% increase in spending, well above inflation. The real terms freeze refers to the ‘commitments’ section of the budget, not the actual cash contributed by member states.

Lewandowski: Many German states such as Brandenburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Saxony are dependent on EU funding. 

Well, “dependent” is an interesting choice of words. For richer member states, the structural funds involve recycling cash. As we have shown, there’s no good reason for the EU’s continued involvement in the regional policy of wealthier member states such as the UK and Germany. In fact, there’s no conclusive evidence that the structural funds offer the best comparative use of public money considering their contradictory criteria, and their deadweight, opportunity, and administrative costs.

But Lewandowski also shows poor understanding of the redistribution flows within Germany – and the relative wealth of German länder. If by “dependent” he means “net recipient”, he is correct that Brandenburg and Saxony (both formerly in the DDR) are net recipients of EU structural funds. However, Schleswig-Holstein is definitely a net contributor, and a big one at that. According to recent research published by Open Europe’s German sister organisation, Open Europe Berlin, Schleswig-Holstein pays €3.80 into the structural funds (via general taxation) for every €1 it gets back. If Lewandowski wanted to prove our point that the structural funds suffer from irrational redistribution patterns, he did a good job. But such a poor grasp of the basics is worrying from the Budgetary Commissioner.

Bild: All member countries have to save – why not the EU?
Lewandowski: It is misleading to use national austerity programmes to justify cuts to the EU budget. The EU budget is far too small to significantly affect the deficits [in national budgets]. It accounts for only 1% of EU GDP. 

Leaving aside the boring and completely arbitrary debate about the EU budget ‘only’ being 1% of EU-wide GDP, Lewandowski is on shaky ground when asserting that contributions to the EU budget only have a negligible impact on national deficit targets. For example, France is seeking to reduce its budget deficit by €33bn next year (a mix of cuts and tax increases) whereas its contribution to the 2013 annual budget is set to be €21.8bn – hardly insignificant. 

Lewandowski also ignores the symbolic impact of the EU demanding higher contributions at a time of national austerity – one of the factors contributing to citizens’ widespread disillusionment with the EU. 

So not Lewandowski’s finest hour. If he is stuck for inspiration we would recommend he takes a look at our ‘alternative EU budget’ for 2012 which cut EU spending by €41bn (almost 30%) while also re-focussing the remaining spending far more effectively on boosting jobs and growth.

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