Mon 29 Sep 2008
MEP Chris Heaton-Harris writes A Rough Guide to the EU's Draft Budget for 2009. This is an excerpt.
For the past nine years or so I have been a Member of the Audit Committee of the European Parliament (known as "Budgetary Control").
We all know that every year the European Court of Auditors fails to sign off (or as they say “give a positive statement of assurance on”) the accounts of the European Commission.
Well, this time of year is budget time! Cannily, the process was designed so that just about everyone in the European Parliament who might care about the Budget is away on holiday around the time amendments for the budget should be submitted.
This year most Committees of the Parliament (which only returned from recess on 25th August) have deadlines for the tabling of amendments around the 27th August.
This is where MEPs, if they wanted to, could try to tame the beast.
Every year, helped by my poor members of staff, I go through the budget over the summer months and table dozens (occasionally hundreds) of amendments to try and prune out some of the rubbish that I have found contained within it. Every year I lose most of these amendments in the Committee and Plenary votes, thanks to EPP, Socialist and Liberal MEPs defending the status quo.
Firstly the numbers
All the amounts I talk about below are contained within the “Draft Budget” and most can be amended by the European Parliament or Member State governments should they want to.
This year the total Draft Budget for the European Union is £116bn.
This is a 3.1% increase on last year’s amount. Of this money the European Commission’s 2009 draft budget is £95bn and the European Parliament’s 2009 draft budget is £1.25bn.
The European Commission
OK, so let’s look at the big beast first – the draft budget for the European Commission for 2009 of £95bn.
Agriculture & Fisheries
Unsurprisingly, the single biggest expense belongs to the agricultural sector and the Common Agricultural Policy – it accounts for a whopping £35.75bn!
Administration and EU integration
In 2009 the total administration costs of the Commission will rise by 5% to £6.42bn.
Despite many promises of internal reform the internal admin costs of the Commission are continuing to explode. The 2008 rise was 4.4%, 2007 was 5.1%, 2006 was 5.8%.
The worst thing is that these figures are pretty successfully gerrymandered to keep them looking low. The Commission has done this by successfully pushing for bits of its administration to be cut off and floated away in new quangos (470 mio , e.g. for Fundamental Rights Agency in Vienna and The European Environment Agency based in Copenhagen) and “decentralised bodies”.
In the past many of the problems that the European Court of Auditors have found with the spending of European taxpayers money have come from these parts of the Commission that are located away from Brussels, and escape some of the media and Parliamentary scrutiny that the centralised administration attracts.
One of my biggest gripes with the Commission budget is that it spends huge amounts of money on projects where you essentially have to be a paid up Euro-luvvy to get any money.
Indeed, some of the things the Commission pay for are nothing short of good, old fashioned propaganda:
PDB 2009 Heading 3b: Fostering European culture & diversity ("Fostering mutual understanding and a shared European identity") - £177.5m
Budget Line 04030302: Information and training measures for workers' organisations (Trade Unions) - £13.7m
Budget Line 150209: subsidy for College of Europe and "European integration in universities" - £22.5m
Budget Line 150222: includes Jean Monnet programme, to "support institutions active in the field of European integration" - £779m
This is where, for example, the Young European Federalists get their taxpayer funding from to come up with really smart ideas like creating an EU Olympic Team.
As we all have read in the papers and on blogs, the European Commission is increasingly fed up with the fact that it has a bad reputation and most people think everything it says is all spin and no substance. To communicate to all of us that this is not the case we have the European Commission's spin machine, valued at over £170m of your tax pounds:
Oh yes, I nearly forgot to tell you that the 2009 contribution to Pensions for European Union staff is in the draft budget at £970m. You’ll have to talk to the staff unions to see what a fantastic deal they get on all other perks (and tax-rates!)
Alas, the one budget line that most Europeans would probably like to see funded - Budget Line 260108: Pilot project - "Minimising Administrative Burdens" – has been cut completely!!!
The “Dead as a Parrot” Lisbon Treaty. See this video with John Cleese.
As we all know, the European Commission want the Lisbon Treaty and they want it badly. So badly, in fact, they are happily going to shell out millions of European taxpayers' money .
They don’t even try to hide what they are doing
"In 2009, the EU should also see the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon".
President Sarkozy and other politicians have argued that no enlargement will be possible if the Lisbon Treaty is not ratified, but this is simply disproved by these items in the
2009 PDB:Budget Line 220201: Institution-building for candidate countries - £263m
Budget Line 220202: Institution-building for potential candidate countries - £357.5m
Budget Line 220402: Information and communication strategy for non-EU countries - £11.6m
Budget Line 040601: Pre-accession assistance - £64m.
The “Financial Regulation” is essentially the rule book and is as complicated as anything I have seen in my nine years as a MEP. Article 49 of the Financial Regulation allows for five exceptions to the basic rule that expenditure on an item must have a “Legal base” (be granted within a ratified Treaty).
Personally, if I had the cash, I would challenge the Commission in the European Courts on its interpretation of Article 49. It reads it as conferring the power to do whatever it wants, especially in the area of the CFSP.
Even if this were so, anyone can see from the items I have listed that the Commission, with the co-operation of the Parliament and all the Member State governments, continues to fund things it obviously has no legal basis for
In PDB 2009 there is at least £247.5m spent by the European Commission on various NGOs.
It is even more dodgy if you consider the following: The Commission pays money to hundreds of NGOs. The NGOs are pleased to accept the money. The Commission proposes a Directive in an area the NGO is active in. How, then does the NGO react if it does not like the Directive – does it bite the hand that feeds it?
Actually it is worse than that. In a number of cases the Commission will consult around a policy area in which it wants to take an initiative. It consults, amongst others, with NGOs it funds and has a relationship with. The Commission takes the advice of the NGOs and then decides to run a project that it puts out to tender. The NGOs the Commission consulted with bid and perhaps win the contract.
Here are some of the NGOs
• CLIMATE ACTION NETWORK EUROPE, environmental policy lobbyists
• EUROPEAN MOVEMENT, European federalist think-tank
• EUROPEAN TRADE UNION CONFEDERATION, who lobby on employment policy
• EUROPEAN ENVIRONMENTAL BUREAU, environmental lobbyists
• UNION OF EUROPEAN FEDERALISTS
• YOUNG EUROPEAN FEDERALISTS
• YOUTH OF THE EUROPEAN PEOPLE'S PARTY
• INTERNATIONAL FALCON MOVEMENT (SOCIALIST EDUCATIONAL INTERNATIONAL)
• COALITION FOR THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT, a lobby group whose aim is to persuade world governments (particularly the USA) to recognise the ICC
The European Parliament
Bizarrely, MEPs travel expenses are set to rise quite dramatically when we go to a system of travel reimbursed at cost, compared with the current system of lump sum payment. So in 2009 it is estimated that the average travel costs of an MEP will be £98,000 each.
Although many questions have been asked, no one will say how much of this money from the 2008 budget was spent on campaigns in Ireland!
Currently there are very few people in the European Parliament who even bother to look at the Budget. Very very few budget amendments even get voted on by all MEPs;Most amendments are grouped together into 20 or 30 bundles and then the bundles are voted on. Forget the politics and the money; we need to vote quickly, because lunch comes immediately after the Budget vote…!
I can only think of the old proverb about hanging small thieves – and letting the big ones go free.
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