The Netherlands could help put EU finance on a sounder footing

24 April 2015

The Netherlands could help put EU finance on a sounder footing

When the Netherlands takes its turn as president of the European Union in 2016, it should use the opportunity to put an end to the EU’s wasting of money and to the unnecessary pumping of funds from the member states to Brussels and back again.

By Harry van Bommel

For a Kafka-lover like Alex Brenninkmeijer, the world he has had to get to grips with since his appointment last year must have been fascinating. As the Dutch member of the European Court of Auditors (ECA) he is tasked with monitoring the finances of all of the institutions and countries in receipt of EU money.

For the twentieth year in succession the ECA has refused to accept the accounts for EU expenditure, due to the high incidence of errors – 4.7%, or almost €7 bn. This is made up, for example, of subsidies meant for small and medium-sized firms, but which have gone instead to companies owned by multinationals.

Brenninkmeijer describes the member states as ‘unreliable’ and accuses them of ‘materialism’. Everyone wants to get their snout as deep into the EU trough as possible, even if other countries might have much greater need of the money.

Last week Home Affairs Minister Ronald Plasterk said that he would rather see European farm subsidies shifted to urban development, expressing his ambition to see Dutch cities rival the very best. But why should such prestige projects be subsidised out of EU money?

That goes moreover for countless other projects in receipt of such subsidies. The Netherlands makes use of a subsidy which goes to provide schoolchildren with fruit, for example, while the official position is that such matters are national affairs. And what are we to think of the ghost airports built by Poland for a European price tag of €100 million? The EU’s multi-annual budget for 2014-2020 amounts to €960 billion, to which the Netherlands will contribute almost €50bn, or €7bn a year.

Farm subsidies and improvements to competitiveness form two of the heaviest budget lines. There is a great deal of space for reducing this sum. Very little money goes to small farms. Overall, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has a negative effect on the competitiveness of African farmers. Part of the money meant for deprived regions goes to relatively rich member states. Profitable multinationals such as ING, Unilever and Philips rake in millions in subsidies designed to create employment in poorer regions. This pumping of money about must stop. It doesn’t work and furthermore the cash often ends up in the wrong hands.

In order to call time on fraud, the European Commission wants to set up a European Public Prosecutor’s Office. This would, however, sideline national judicial systems. There is a much more effective solution: halve the multi-annual budget and restrict access to the funds to the poorest member states and to cross-border projects which aid innovation. In that way the money would go directly to where it is most needed, giving a shot in the arm to the EU’s popularity.


Harry van Bommel is a Member of Parliament for the SP. This article first appeared, in the original Dutch, in the national daily the Nederlands Dagblad.


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