Sunday, November 18, 2012

Facing austerity, Europe's bureaucrats chafe

The problem is that governments from Helsinki to Madrid are freezing spending or cutting it by 5 percent or more a year, but the European Commission has asked for a 6 percent increase over 2014-2020. An influential group of eight EU countries, including Germany and France as well as Britain, wants the Commission to save between 5 and 15 billion euros over the period.

The Commission argues that it has already made cuts. But in politics, symbolism matters, and numerous examples appear to contradict the claims of restraint:

- The European Parliament shifts its base once a month from Brussels to Strasbourg in France, at an annual cost of 180 million euros ($230 million).

- The European Council, which represents member states, is building a new ‘Europa' headquarters right next door to its existing marble-and-glass building, at a cost of 310 million euros.

- The European Court of Auditors, another EU institution, announced on November 6 that 4 percent of spending in the last EU budget had been "irregular", although this was largely due to mismanagement by member states.

- EU civil servants get generous health and pension benefits and free private education for their children in Brussels' leafy neighborhoods.

- EU institutions have cellars stocked with nearly 47,000 bottles of red, white and sparkling wine with a total value of 515,000 euros, according to a response to questions from German Member of the European Parliament Martin Ehrenhauser.