The Brussels Grab Bag

28 August 2008

The Brussels Grab Bag

Floods of subsidies flow from Brussels to the 27 member states and to countries which are in the process of joining the EU. For the latter, this 'pre-accession support' is aimed at strengthening the infrastructure and economy of the candidate member states so that they can keep their end up in the European competitive battle and, to look at it from the other end, so that the existing member states can more easily market their products there. Thus far, no problem, merely a demonstration that the EU is in essence an economic project, one in which in the end we are primarily promoting trade with each other.

By Harry van Bommel

If we look rather more closely at the flow of European subsidies it is striking to note how many activities can count on such support. This summer I spent a few days in the province of Drenthe, up in the north-east on the German border. In the pretty little village of Drijber a cycle path was recently laid, with the help of a few thousand euros of EU money. When I was in Ireland in the spring, campaigning for a 'no' vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum, I took a train on a railway the building of which turned out to be have been part-financed by Brussels. Earlier in the summer I was holidaying on a campsite in northern Italy, and once again some of the facilities there had been paid for with European money. Taken together these are examples of matters where I found myself asking: "All very nice, but was there really a need for EU subsidies for these provisions?"

What's really too stupid for words is the payment of subsidies to specific sectors. A little while ago I complained in parliament about the millions of euros in subsidies given to a radio advertising campaign whose slogan was "Chicken, the versatile meat". The EU shelled out here for ads that already existed, because these commercials were broadcast earlier without any European money whatsoever. Now it turns out that subsidies will go to the car manufacturer Spyker, for the development of a racing car engine for the Spyker Squadron. Why? Innovation and employment, says the EU. Bullshit, say I.

The EU has a credibility problem, which is principally its own fault. European treaties do not appear to be aimed at serving the interests of the public, but rather those of our rulers. Subsidies and structural funds do not give the impression of being targeted at solving real problems, but have become a grab bag, a lucky dip for local authorities and private firms. The public is quite right to suspect that taxpayers' money will be spent badly by Brussels. The EU's aim was to bring peace to Europe through shared economic progress. That goal has been reached and so economic development can in many cases best go forward without the support of Brussels. Solidarity with poor regions of the EU is a good thing and must continue. But we should put a stop as quickly as possible to the financing of things the payment of which does not belong in Brussels.

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