< SWITCH ME >
|Written by Christopher Wratil|
Looking at the colourful world of the Eurovision Song Contest or the breath-taking ERASMUS parties, almost everyone likes the results of an "ever closer union" in Europe. Nevertheless, when it comes to money European solidarity quickly reaches its limits. No negotiation of European Union's budget takes place without any fundamental discussion about the justification for the EU's existence. The media in the so called "net contributor" states normally wonder whether their governments haven't been fooled by the other states or whether changes in contribution are really relative to changes in domestic economic performance. In Germany there is a wide-spread belief that Germany's status as main "net contributor" is mainly due to "paying the bill for the second world war". In France, many people think the main problem of the budget is the "British rebate" and in the United Kingdom prejudices against French farmers never get more common than in time of budget negotiations. In fact, discussion about the EU budget is highly influenced by national narratives.
However, since 2004 there is a strong European narrative attached to the discussion. It is not only prevalent in Western Europe but also accepted by many Eastern Europeans. I have in mind the conviction that due to the Eastern expansion, budget policy is shaped by the fact that the old EU15 countries pay for the new economically weak countries in Eastern Europe.
But is this thesis really a fact? Is defunct political division of the Iron Curtain surviving as a financial division between contributors and receivers?
This question cannot be answered by looking at the total amount a country receives or contributes to the EU budget because a country like Malta with its 400,000 inhabitants will clearly never contribute what 80 million Germans will. Therefore, we have to ask which nationality the major individual contributor - or tax payer - is. If we take a look at the data from EUROSTAT it becomes clear that the strongest net contributor to European budget is a Luxembourger, as every citizen in Luxembourg had a net contribution of 185 € per year in 2005. Luxembourgers are followed by the Netherlanders (162€) and Swedes (96 €). Hence, it's true that the main contributors to the EU budget are EU15 states citizens. Nevertheless, which nationality are the net receivers? Polish? Czech?
You'll never guess. The net receivers do not come from Eastern Europe but are Greeks (351 €), Irish (271 €) or Portuguese (226 €), citizens of the EU15 states. A Pole, on the other hand, benefits by just 48 € per year from the EU budget, not to mention the Czechs, with 17 € a head.
The big net receivers after Eastern enlargement are those who were already gaining a lot before. When the new states joined, the net contributors were keen to protect themselves against even bigger financial commitments to the European project. The top receivers, on the other hand, were keen to protect every advantage they had instead of sharing them with the newcomers.
Squeeze out the net contributors in favour of the new states, discipline the old receivers or accept the facts as they are, but don't blame the Eastern states for their role in the EU budget - it's clearly too small.