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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What have the EU quangos ever done for you?

Today’s expected announcement by the Commission that it has proposed a 6.8% increase in the EU budget comes as are finalising a detailed report looking at the EU’s bloated and inefficient spending, and how we feel the budget should be reformed. As a warm-up ahead of this report, we published a short updated briefing looking at the cost and effectiveness of the EU’s assortment of quangos and committees, the total cost to European taxpayers of which now stands at €2.64bn (£2.17bn), up 3.4% from last year and a massive 33.2% compared with 2010. Here are a few key points from the report:

• There are currently 52 EU quangos, double the number in 2004. Prior to 1990, there were only three as the graph shows:
Rise of the EU quangos - 1990 - 2012

• Over 90% of the €2.64bn comes from EU member states with the rest from non-EU member states such as Norway. A huge chunk of this is borne by three member states 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. The equally redundant Committee of the Regions has an annual budget of €86.5m, a 3% increase from 2011.

• 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 its own media coverage.
  • 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 but 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.

The briefing was covered widely in the UK press and also by a couple of international outlets. A spokesman for the Commission responded, saying that:
"Each EU member state wants a European agency on its own ground so, of course, that means member states have pushed up costs."
In fairness this is a real problem which we have acknowledged in the report, i.e. that member states are often very protective over specific areas of EU spending, meaning they can be just as responsible for spiralling costs overall as the EU institutions. Ultimately member states cannot have it both ways – an efficient value adding EU budget and preservation of specific special interests such as many of the EU agencies or more generally the CAP. Hopefully the prevailing economic climate will focus member states’, EU officials’ and MEPs’ minds in upcoming negotiations on both next year’s budget and more importantly on the upcoming seven year financial framework (the EU’s long term budget) on the former at the expense of the latter.


Peripatetic Scribe said...

"What have EU quangos done for me?" = cost me a lot of money for absolutely NOTHING.

Cut, cut, and more cut, please

Denis Cooper said...

Please could you explain the detailed legal position on the demand for an increased budget.