Brussels confronts ‘EU budget myths’

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Just days before unveiling long-awaited proposals for the EU's budget until 2020, the European Commission has published a collection of facts on how Europe is financed, in a move apparently aimed at countering stereotypes conveyed by the Eurosceptic British press that it is over-sized and unaccountable.

The paper, entitled 'The Budget explained', refutes six "myths": that the EU "costs too much", that the Union's financing is decided in an "undemocratic" manner, that it is "riddled with fraud," that the majority of spending goes on funding its bureaucratic apparatus, that it is "constantly on the rise" and that it is "enormous".

EU spokespeople tweeted over the weekend to draw attention to the document, which is apparently part of a new communication strategy to refute seriously inaccurate portrayals of what the EU is doing.

"To find out about the EU budget – how it works and what it is spent on – we usually rely on media reports or independent websites. Among many informative and factual reports, one may sometimes find stories based on twisted facts, inaccurate figures or downright lies. These stories are often taken up by others and start a life of their own, which puts at risk the quality of the public debate on the EU finances," the Commission explains in its initiative.

For each "myth", the Commission cites media outlets or Wikipedia carrying what it deems to be the wrong message. Several media sources are quoted, including the Times, the Telegraph, the Mail Online and the Daily Express.

In response to assertions made in the Eurosceptic press that the EU "costs too much," the Commission writes:

"Simply not true. A Tax Freedom Day comparison is telling. When you calculate how many days in a year you have to work to pay the total of your yearly taxes, the national tax burden means that people work until well into spring and summer until they have paid their contribution. By contrast, to cover his or her contribution to the EU budget, the average European would have to pay only four days, until 4 January."

Part of the Commission paper refutes a recent study by Open Europe, a Eurosceptic think-tank, revealing '100 examples of EU fraud and waste'. The survey received considerable media attention and was quoted widely across Europe and the world.

"While Open Europe claims to illustrate 'how off-target the EU budget is', their list is but a collection of caricature stories, most of which is based solely on unverified press clippings collected over a couple of years," the Commission writes.

The EU executive's effort would appear to signal its nervousness about the budget battles which lie ahead. According to information received by EURACTIV, Commission President José Manuel Barroso had instructed all commissioners to provide examples of the greater added value of money spent at EU level, compared to similar investment in a national framework.

Not all commissioners were happy with the assignment, EURACTIV was told.

Georgi Gotev

The size, structure and priorities of the EU's annual spending, which amounted to roughly €130 billion in 2010, are governed by the 'Financial Perspectives', which cover the period 2007-2013 (see EURACTIV LinksDossier).

Negotiations on the next multi-annual budget planning are due to start as soon as the Commission will publish its budget proposal, on 29 June. It is expected that the period covered will be 2014-2020.

The most controversial issue of the review is the current 44% (€55 billion) share of the budget that is set aside agricultural subsidies.

On 19 October, the European Commission listed a number of options to fuel the EU's future budget, proposing that Europe decreases the share of spending coming directly from the member states.

To compensate for the shortfall, it proposed introducing an EU tax which could take several forms: a tax on air transport or a share of new financial, corporate or energy taxes, as well as an EU VAT.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso offered to put on the table in June 2011 concrete proposals for "own resources" in the long-term EU budget. More recently, he proposed that a financial transaction tax (FTT) be introduced, likely to tax the value of transaction to the level of 0.01-0.05%.

The European Parliament recently passed a vote calling for a minimum increase of 5% in the EU budget, needed if the bloc is to complete all its agreed objectives, such as putting in place a common diplomatic service and boosting its economy.

  • 29 June: European Commission to table proposals for EU's long-term budget.

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