Friday, November 23, 2012

Clashes over EU budget

Leaders of the EU countries met in Brussels and they are trying to agree about the 2014-2020 EU budget – about a trillion of dollars. And as the Washington Post and almost everyone else notices, it ain't pretty. France clashes with Britain and smaller countries play their own small games, suggesting possible vetoes.

Click for the Guardian infographics on EU finances...

One could say that it's possible to define "overall fair rules" how to redistribute the resources. However, there's still a subtle question: How large is the overall budget? Now, the countries that are net payers obviously want the overall budget to shrink; David Cameron is a clear advocate of that. Countries that have been overall recipients, including Czechia, want to stay recipients and they typically want the budget for solidarity ("cohesion spending") to grow.

(Except for Prague, all regions of Czechia are counted as poorer regions that should be receiving this kind of aid. Czechia is a net recipient but on a per-capita basis, we're the smallest recipients among the post-socialist EU member states. Among the net recipients, we're the per-capita smallest ones after Cyprus, Spain, Ireland, and Belgium.)

It isn't easy to agree about all these numbers if 27 leaders have to do so. In fact, I find it somewhat remarkable that such clashes haven't occurred so far. Decades have been free of this obvious "egotist" behavior of the individual countries. But the idea about people and nations ready to pay anything to their fellowmen is a communist utopia so the clashes sooner or later had to start. They had to start as soon as some politicians devoured the forbidden apple and realized that they have previously acted in a stupid way.

Why don't these clashes occur in large unified countries, e.g. in the U.S.? Well, that's easy. These countries have a federal government that decides about all the member states of the union by majority or similar votes. So if your viewpoint on some part of the federal budget or redistribution seems to be in a minority, the federal elections are pretty much the last moment when you may try to change something about your political weakness.

But the leaders who are deciding about these EU budget rules aren't elected by the Europeans. As a group, they can't boast any political capital they have received from the voters in the whole union. They are only representing the individual nations – at most. So it's obvious that sooner or later, these politicians have to protect the interests of the single nation that elevated them in politics. When the clashes become strong enough, a failed unified country of course converges towards the annihilation of the shared budget. When no country pays anything to the "common cause", it's the ultimate fair arrangement that everyone has to agree with (although the former recipients may be upset, they can't do anything about it).

While leaders such as Merkel, Hollande, Cameron, and Nečas weren't elected by all the EU voters, the EU has some bodies that were elected in "European elections". I am talking about the European Parliament. But it's still true that each nation only elects its own fraction of the Parliament (it's the case in the U.S. Congress as well but when two continents are doing the same thing, it's not the same thing). It doesn't affect the composition of the representatives from the remaining countries. This makes a difference.

Even more seriously, the EU doesn't really have "its own money". It is receiving the money from the individual nations. That's why it's really irrelevant what the EU lawmakers think about the overall size of the EU budget. If they don't get the money from the national governments, they have nothing to redistribute so their opinions are only good enough to be written on urinals in Strasbourg.

This is of course a tough situation that may evolve in both ways. If the desire of the nations to think as a "single nation" prevails, they agree about things and create a framework in which the EU institutions don't have to "beg" for every eurocent all the time. If the EU were really converging towards a federation, and I hope and think it's not the case, the national taxes could even be supplemented or replaced by the EU-wide taxes which would clearly give the central EU bodies much more power. Such a new tax could be administered or modified by the European Parliament. However, the individual nations would first have to allow the EU to collect the money on their territories, according to its own rules, and order its law enforcement forces to enforce the EU-Parliament-sponsored laws, too. Just to be sure, those would be huge changes even if the EU tax rate would start at 1% or 2%. On the other hand, if the nations realize that their main identity is the national identity, and I think it's the case, the shared EU budget will be increasingly viewed as a controversial, artificial, obsolete construct and when these controversies are resolved, the decrease of this budget is the direction we should expect.

In Czechia, Beethoven's EU anthem has been rebranded as a celebratory "Song for Bára" (Špotáková, a top javelin thrower). They sing that their parents are crying when Bára wins and when they grow up, they will be like Bára, terrors of all the measurers. They're just not sure where they will look for their firefighters (Bára's partner is one of them).

It seems to me that it will become increasingly fashionable and natural among the top EU national politicians to protect the narrow national interest of their countries. The EU countries should realize that they're mostly a group of 27 spouses who no longer sleep with each other and they should attempt to go through a velvet divorce. It would be silly to overreact. Just because the prime ministers don't agree about the EU budget – usually for obvious reasons – doesn't mean that they're obliged to wage a war against the remaining EU countries. There are lots of things in the EU that don't cost almost anything, various multinational agreements that are good for everyone. And even when emotions run high and the EU converges towards some kind of a partial dissolution, they shouldn't forget that there are many things – not only the free trade but especially the free trade – that almost no one really wants to abandon simply because it works. It works without any propaganda. Those things that don't work and that are likely to lead to increasingly bitter arguments should be gradually abandoned.

Make no doubts about it: We in Czechia know what we're talking about here. Slovakia used to be a net recipient in the Czechoslovak budget. When this "Czech duty to pay" was supplemented by assorted coherent and incoherent memes about improved Slovak autonomy and independence in various ways, sensible Czech politicians – even though they had promoted federation for years – realized that these arguments became a waste of time and a complete dissolution of dissolution was the zeroth approximation to the most streamlined new arrangement we could think of. The Hyphen War (called "the Dash War" in Czechia: there was a meta-war about how the Dash War should be even called haha) about the presence or absence of a hyphen in Czecho(-)Slovakia became an early sign for many Czechs that we should just stop this hassle.

When I say these comments, it doesn't mean that I don't understand the Czech prime minister who is trying to get as much money as possible. Of course that I understand him. To collect more money from Brussels means that he will be viewed as a more successful Czech politician who has helped his country. At the same moment, I think that countries that want to remain "overall recipients" aren't really those that should have the last word. In the Czech case, we are talking about 2% of our GDP that is being added from the EU every year (or every arbitrary unit of time): our consumption plus investments are artificially increased by the factor of 1.02 by our EU membership. It's not a dramatic transformation of our finances we couldn't live without; at the same moment, it's comparable to our budget deficit so it is not quite a negligible amount of money.


  1. The risk for the countries who contribute less than they receive from the EU is addiction. Take Hungary. They have spent 30 billions Euros in 5 years: renovating their thermal baths (took 1 year: 5M Euros), building hundreds of kilometers of roads, bridges, new railways etc and now renovating the Music Academy in Budapest. 97% of their spendings come from the EU.
    Just to lift their standard of living to the rest of Europe... They can't live without it now. And this might create some competition between countries too...

    There are 55000 EU civil servants that European taxpayers keep occupied: 1 out of 6 are paid 100000 Euros per year (it's more than 8000/month...). Fire them at once.

  2. Hungary receives 4 times more per capita than we do. No wonder they try to be more pro-European than us, and even we are mostly "bought" almost whenever we speak of the EU nicely. ;-)

    Yup, it's bad if people and nations get used to something that isn't "automatic" or "for free". And it's bad if policies within the EU suppress the competition between the people, companies, and - indeed - between the nations.

    55,000 is a lot but it's still a small fraction of the EU population, thank God.

  3. The European Budget should be exclusively devoted to industrial innovation, research... we need a long term vision of Europe. but there again, look who we are talking to (Von Rumpuy and al... yuk).

  4. "But the leaders who are deciding about these EU budget rules aren't elected by the Europeans. As a group, they can't boast any political capital they have received from the voters in the whole union." — Luboš

    And I do so fervently hope they never get into a position where they can make such a boast. It would be empty anyway. Election means nothing without a demos. And there is no European demos, let alone just an EU one. If I have any say in it there never will be. OK, there might be an EU demos at most at some point but not a European one, not unless it includes, for example, Norway, Switzerland—and most importantly as far as I am concerned—the UK, but more specifically England. [If the Scots, Welsh and Irish want to go their own way then I don't want to stop them, though I think they'd be sorely mistaken as the four so-called nations of the British Isles are far younger than the people of these islands who form a natural single demos, by blood (what else?).] If Englishmen ever voted by majority to form a demos with any nation outside the UK then I would hope for civil war. We had one of those 350 years ago, and by Christ I'd hope we'd rise to the occasion again if needs be. (We'll probably get one anyway because of the accelerating massive flood of unwanted hideously alien turd-world immigration our political class has subjected us to since 1948 and which shows no signs of abating. Of course then it won't be a civil war as such but a foreign one, only fought out on our home turf.)

    Budgets be damned. They are only a part of the whole creeping cancerous mechanism set in place to achieve the post World War One fcukwit utopian marxist dreams of Jean Monnet and Arthur Salter. These bastards and their successors wanted/want to homogenise Europe and so destroy national loyalties so that they could/can implement their single-nation, departure-lounge superstate. Everything they do is directed towards that end. The euro, for example, is—and always has been—intended as a Trojan Horse to force political integration via the inevitable financial crises it would throw up, necessitating massive fiscal transfer payments (apparent to anyone with economics 101) and the concomitant loss of the receiving nations' autonomy, but which was sold to an overwhelmingly economically illiterate, bozo public as a wonderful transactional convenience. (The so-called convergence criteria were a further meaningless technical-sounding gloss and mood music for suckers to make it look as if the issue were purely financial/economic and being handled 'appropriately' by 'higher financial minds'. 175 proof bullshit. But in the event even these were faked, notably by France, Italy and Germany.)

    The sooner Europeans wake up, get off the putrid teat and destroy this fundamentally undemocratic syphilitic EU beast the better it will be for all of us. But I don't hold out much chance of that happening anytime soon as pretty much the whole of this stinking continent (and I include the UK, for this once) is in thrall to an ultimately genocidal socialism. But then there's no other kind.

    Oh yeah, don't worry about Cameron and the British Contingent — they're a bunch of bought-off spineless europhiliac weasels and will fold even before the cards are dealt. They're all scum — traitors to a man. They're just putting on their regular pantomime for the all the mouth-breathing fcukwit punters back home — we have millions, each with a vote. The EU will get our money. For now.

    And the long term?

    Separate, free, independent nation states—each with a coherent demos and its political operators firmly strapped down and under viciously democratic control—is the only way to go. Yes, there is a great common European heritage but we don't need to be up each other's arses to share it, enjoy its wonders and live in peace. Besides, I don't like the smell of shit.

  5. Dear John, I have the feeling that we, the people, will have to let this guys screw up till the end. Then rebuild (after a few executions a la Romanian)... in a few decades.

  6. Dear Shannon,

    I have EXACTLY the same feeling. It's a big problem.

    Indeed, it is a very big problem. The harsh and ugly reality is that the root cause of the mess lies in us the people ourselves, and facing up to that unpalatable truth is going to take some doing.

    I can speak only of the UK but I can't see that things are fundamentally any different in other countries. The bottom line is that we Britons have abrogated our responsibility for ensuring our continued wellbeing to an effectively unaccountable political class. This great cultural achievement of ours has been brought about by the successful marketing of a completely duff product and sold to a gullible and mentally lazy public under the label of 'representative democracy'. It is nothing of the sort. It's a complete sham. The politicos are out of control. They do not represent us. They represent only themselves, their families and their symbiotic pals in the corporate sector, both private and public — this pestilent latter including, most dangerously, a whole raft of unaccountable and cancerous NGOs (a modern mega 'growth industry'), both domestic and international. In fact, I don't believe we have ever had democracy in the UK.

    The grand irony here is that, in this respect, I have more in common with your average Fritz, Claude and Sven than I do with my own so-called representatives. And so do we all. It's a funny old world.

    It's going to take an earthquake. So yes, that's why I agree with you. And you're right — stock up on the piano wire, buzz-saws and wood-chippers; we'll need plenty. Governments need to learn who's boss. WE ARE. NOT THEM.

  7. Hi John, yes we are the boss ultimately and democracy is an illusion ;-)... but they are our leaders for now. Let's use them. I do believe we are becoming one European nation whether we like it or not. A lot of people agree with what you say all over Europe and they have more and more weight in the balance. Your boss David Cameron said it himself the other day.

    However I believe that, even if we "break up", things will never come back to the way they were: and is it that bad ?..

    John, in the UK you still don't use the metric system. Come on... (even bloody Ireland has shifted to it! ;-)

  8. Dear Shannon,

    [I'll reply inline to your latest as the columns are becoming too narrow for my taste.]

    Agreed! :)

    Moreover, in my view, things would never have been the way they were (the two World Wars) if each of our countries had been full and proper democracies all along. For it is not the peoples who would ever want to kill each other's mothers' sons and daughters but that the uncontrollable and unaccountable traitors to their own kind in power would force that killing on them. And this applies pretty much the world over. The glaring exception of course is pisslam. The conflict with that stone-age totalitarian creed is civilisational. There can be no accommodation. It really is the people versus untermenschen.

    I'm delighted to hear that a "lot of people agree with what you say all over Europe and they have more and more weight in the balance". More power to us.

    As for the metric system, NEVER! Well, not until you continentals learn to drive on the right side of the road, namely the left. Then maybe we can strike a deal. :)

    The left is the natural side for most of us. Look at it this way. If you were out on horseback enjoying the countryside and you chanced upon a politician ahead then which side are you going to pass him on so that you can conveniently whip out your axe and bury it in his skull? It's a no-brainer, see? Geddit? :) The left. QED

    Actually, I use both systems. I think in imperial for everyday use but generally prefer to calculate in metric (more precisely, SI) then convert if necessary. For actual measurement it's a bit of a mix. Millimetres are very convenient although I still think in 1/8ths and 1/16ths of an inch etc. Besides, my micrometer is calibrated only in millimetres. I drink in pints though. Always pints. Wine's ok but beer is best. I'd stand you a pint right now if you were here. So, yes, cheers! :)

    Bon chance, my friend. (I'll stick with gender-neutral English as I'm not well up on French Christian names and don't want to risk giving unintended offence — ami/amie, although I strongly suspect it is the latter, non?)

    Good luck either way. :)

    P.S. Cameron is just another liar and traitor like bliar, just not quite as repulsively effeminate — he hasn't been able to master (mistress?) that girly lithp. Whatever he says, it means nothing, even if it sounds vaguely right. Pay no attention to him is my advice. I don't.

  9. ;-) So British <;^)