El Rey está desnudo

Oct 6

That monster called European Union

“Upon its creation, Skynet began to learn at a geometric rate. The system originally went online on August 4, 1997. Human decisions were removed from strategic defense. It originally became self-aware at 2:14 am Eastern Time On August 29, and the panicking operators, realizing the extent of its abilities, tried to deactivate it. Skynet perceived this as an attack and came to the conclusion that all of humanity would attempt to destroy it. To defend itself, Skynet launched nuclear missiles under its command at Russia, which responded with a nuclear counter-attack against the U.S. and its allies. As a result of the nuclear exchange, over three billion people were killed in an event that came to be known as Judgment Day”.

The text above belongs to the movie Terminator. In this movie, a powerful entity (Skynet) created by the humans to control the defense systems in the US became self-aware and started attacking its creators in order to survive.

This introduction will allow me to present my theory about the European Union (and its executing arm, the European Commission), or how an entity created by the European Nations has become self-aware and now its using all the power given by its creators to survive and to “destroy” them (non literally speaking, yet).

In this article I defined the European Union as an entity where the “European taxpayers pay with their taxes 8400 Million € (only in 2011, a big crisis year) for [around 24.000] people [bureaucrats] to spend their time in knowing how to spend another 131600 Million €”. And that, only that, is the European Union

It started as a great idea: a free trade and free movement of people, capital and goods area. And many of us have benefited of it, I must recognise. The problem came afterwards, when our politicians decided to create “another layer of Government” over our heads (as if we hadn´t enough with local, regional and national levels). It was a politician decision, so they did not pay attention to the cost. It had to be able to compete at any price with the US. For the glory of France I must add, with the stupid and expensive decision of the "two seats" approach, one in Brussels and another one in Strasbourg. 

But that was only the beginning and the first steps. Until 2010 the European Commission, the “executing arm” of the EU was somehow under the control of the European Council (the nations). However after December 2009, once the Lisbon Treaty entered into force: 

“it is the Commission that currently holds executive powers over the European Union. The governmental powers of the Commission have been such that some such as former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt have suggested changing its name to the “European Government”, calling the present name of commission “ridiculous””.

This was the moment when the European Commission became “self-aware”

You may consider that I am exaggerating and that I am using demagogy. Well, I use demagogy often, but I will give you some arguments that support my aforementioned statements without being so rude and impolite as Nigel Farage. 

European Commission is literally out of control. It has become an isolated entity whose solely purpose is not any more to benefit the citizens of the Union (if it ever was), but to survive and to grow. It promotes legislation under the auspicious of the lobbies set at Brussels (the “Sin City” as I like to call it) that goes directly against the interests of the European citizens and the even the future and the innovation within the Union. The most recent known example is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement - ACTA, but there are many more.

The European Commision spent last year 2011 the amount of 131.600 million € in maintaining the European Parliament with all the privileges for MEPs, providing a generous budget for the European Political Parties (EPP, PES, ALDE, etc.), and in studies, projects and initiatives that are out of the control of any auditing authority. Yes, there is a Court of Auditors, but this entity only checks that the spending is “legal”, not that it is useful or has any benefit for the citizens. Therefore many of the projects are not subject to any kind of rationale that supports their approval, apart of keeping the European Commission and its satellites (see below) alive.

For example, the VII Framework Programme, with more than 50.000M€ over 7 years, has been used as a way to finance directly and without expected return European companies, institutes and universities, launching many projects with no future use or benefit for the European citizens. Many of these projects consisted in just “copy and paste” of already done works. There are hundreds of examples of stupid projects paid with the European taxpayers money, here you have some. I have seen really stupid spending, but my favourite one is this one, where the UE financed a three years study whose conclusions were used to ban bottled water companies of claiming that “water can prevent dehydration” [1]. Also this story about the EU logo is also astonishing. 

The expenses of the European Union is not only what we see (or perceive) from the privileges of the European Parliament and the MEPs. It goes much further. The European Commission has created around it a growing universe of satellite agencies, organization and institutes also paid by the European taxpayers and whose only reason to exist for most of them is to be a comfortable exile for many of the European Union workers. As long as they grow, the EC gains more power, to make them grow, an this cycle repeats ad-nauseam. In this report from the think tank Open Europe we are warned that: 

There are currently 52 EU quangos [quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation], double the number in 2004. Prior to 1990, there were only three. The total cost to European taxpayers now stands at €2.64bn (£2.17bn), up 3.4% from last year and a massive 33.2% compared with 2010. Over 90% of this comes from EU member states (the rest from non-EU member states such as Norway) – with the UK paying around €362m (£298m) this year, Germany paying €490m and France paying €386m”.

Some agencies, such as the European Chemicals Agency, help to facilitate trade in the single market or pool expertise. However, many agencies add little or no value while duplicating the work of each other, of the core EU institutions as well as of member states’ organisations and  civil society. For example, there are currently two EU agencies specifically dedicated to human rights in addition to similar bodies in member states, the Council of Europe, the ECtHR, a specific EU Commissioner for “fundamental rights” and a range of NGOs.

Others have no impact on policy whatsoever. For example there is no evidence that the €129m a year Economic and Social Committee, an “advisory” body that has existed since the 1950s, has actually altered the outcome of an EU proposal in recent years, and yet it remains in place.

As an evaluation for the European Commission concluded, the system of EU agencies also “creates an indirect but powerful incentive for spending” taxpayers’ cash. For example: 

  • The European Environment Agency (EEA) has set a financial ceiling of €250,000 over a four year contract in order to “assess the EEA’s media coverage and the effectiveness of its media related-work in particular”.
  • The EEA also spent €300,000 on a ‘living map’ of Europe, created from 5,000 plants affixed to the outside wall of its headquarters in Copenhagen, in order to promote biodiversity. The facade stayed up for around 5 months in 2010. On its website, the EEA said it wanted to “illustrate the significance of vertical gardens.”
  • Each board meeting of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) – whose mandate already overlaps with that of another EU agency, and whose board only consists of 15 people – costs €92,630 on average, working out at €6,175 per member. 

Open Europe has identified at least ten agencies that serve no unique purpose and ought to be abolished. Most of the remaining  agencies  should be cut by 30%, saving EU member states just over €668m (£566.4m) every year, with the UK saving €100.4m (£82.6m), France saving €107.3m and Germany saving €136m. In parallel, all agencies should be given strict performance targets and funding should then be dependent on whether these are met.

And nobody reacts. As you can see, the inflexion point was year 2010, after the Lisbon Treaty entered into force.

I can contribute to the above information with my personal experience. I have been this week in Brussels in a meeting in one of the agencies belonging to the European Union discussing one project that the European Commission wants to launch. Most of the national representatives rejected the project (including France and Spain, and Germany with reservations). They stated that there was no need for it, at least now. However the European Commission, in a shameful letter dismissed the nations opinion and decided to go on with the project, which will cost, initially, half million € but whose execution implies a lot of travels and meetings that will increase the final invoice for European taxpayers. The reason behind this insistence is was clear for all of us:the project is supposed to be assigned to an European Institute that has been without noticeable activity since year 2002 (at least), and it is urgent to give them some activity to in order to justify its existence (this was not the official position of course but many of us commented that privately).

In order to see the power gained by the European Commission itself you only need to see what happened with the EU budget this year 2012. In a great crisis year with the budgets of almost all the European nations shrinking and with many of the southern Europe nations in a fiscal turmoil, the EU budget increased a 3,8%, up to 147.200M€. For year 2013 it is expected to grow again, up to 150.900M€. For European Union institutions there is not crisis. 

Some nations, considering the current economical situation in many of them, starting with the UK mainly due to its internal pressure, have been challenging this appetite of the European Commission for funds. As expected the reaction of the European bureaucrats did not wait too long, and it has arrived in the worst form:  blackmailing the nations.

This week it has been known that the European Union (with a yearly increasing budget wasted in the many ways explained above) has run out of money for the Erasmus Programme, and have asked for an amendment on the EU 2012 budget of additional 10.000M€, among other things, to keep the programme running. The European Commission knows that stating a shortfall of funds dedicated to “education” the pressure within the member nations, already accused of adjusting budgets in basic services for the citizens, will be enormous and they will cede and release the additional funds requested. European Commission has learnt its way to survive. Shameful, but effective.

I could tell you many more stories. I could tell you also how decisions are reached at many of the decision bodies within the European Union. One of the arguments the EC or EU bodies could rise to justify all of the above is that the “Steering Committees or Boards” of many of these bodies contain representatives of the member nations who approve any decision made on projects, spending and so. What they will not tell you is that many of these decision are “cooked” within each organisation internally and presented to them as an agreement to this decision bodies, who only approve what they suppose to be a common agreement, when it is not. 

The story goes on. The corruption in Brussels and of MEPs is also well known in the city, but was put in evidence last year when it was shown how flexible were some MEPs with the lobbies installed in Brussels, lobbies that “buy them” literally. And also how they “check in” on Friday early in the morning and they leave the Parliament for a long weekend. And so on. 

My opinion is that the monster has grown too much to me reformed. The EU needs to be dismantled and reduced to what it was in its starting phases. If this is the part of the EU-iceberg that we reach to see, imagine how much remains under the water. 

Of course, it will try to survive. It is a human instinct. 

[1] Where and how I knew about this “project” became the situation really kafkian, but I am not going to publish it here. If you want to know it just ask me in twitter.