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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Quango unchained: The EU's subculture you've probably never heard of (but that thinks it embodies your expectations)

EU 'grassroots' engagement
Beyond the spotlight of high-profile crisis meetings of EU leaders exists a very different community. A group that can almost be likened to a sub-culture. They meet in over-sized buildings in Brussels or at conferences and hotels around Europe. You will almost certainly never have heard of them. These are the EU's committees and quangos. Some useful, some completely irrelevant.

Topping this group is the European Economic and Social Committee. If you've never come across it, don't worry - you're in an overwhelming majority and haven't really missed out on anything. The EESC exists in order to act as "a bridge between Europe and organised civil society" by acting as a point of consultation for the EU by bringing together 'representatives of civil society' - 344 from across the whole EU. In practice the majority of these are representatives of trade unions, the third sector and academia, although business people are also represented.

There's only one problem: no one actually quite knows that the EESC actually does. In recent memory, we have yet to see evidence of it actually having had a measurable effect on a single piece of EU policy. The areas it is involved with are well covered by national authorities, the Commission and the European Parliament - which for better or worse actually has some powers.

It's not that the EESC makes "bad" decisions or is actively harmful. The body - much like its cousin the Committee of the Regions - is simply completely irrelevant in terms of what is happening in the real world. And yet, it has a budget of around €130m a year.

The absence of any meaningful impact of a body like the EESC on the multiple crises plaguing the eurozone borders on being comical. We learned today that EESC has appointed a new President, Henri Malosse. He clearly has grand plans for his tenure:
"Henri Malosse is keenly aware of the disconnect between Europe and its citizens, a fact again brought home by the Greek and Cyprus crises. Convinced that one of the answers lies in a rebalancing of forces in Brussels, he wants the European Union's second assembly to do more to embody people's real expectations in areas such as job creation, combating youth alienation, protection of savings and access to health care."
Makes sense. If only the EESC got a bit more power, than we're sure that the collapsed interbank lending market would be restored over-night. A few more EESC conferences would do wonders to bring down unsustainable debt levels in the eurozone. Meanwhile, hire a few more EESC staff and the 27.2% record unemployment rate in Spain would be immediately reversed. If only the EESC could be given enough cash to  embody "real people's expectations", the EU's democratic deficit would practically be closed already. 

Some of Malousse's tweets are also something else:

Our point? The EESC is emblematic of the EU's Achilles heel: its incredible difficulty in adapting to changing economic and political circumstances. Everyone knows that the EESC and Committee of the Regions - which together cost taxpayers around €215m - are pointless bodies. They're by-products of a long bygone era, premised on the odd principle that in order for "civil society" and "the regions" to have influence, they need their own dedicated institutions in Brussels. In spite of all of this, they remain in place, partly because they're enshrined in the EU Treaties and it therefore requires unanimity to scrap them.

As we pointed out in our dedicated report on EU quangos, several of the EU's 52 agencies suffer from similar flaws. Scrapping 10 of the least useful, and imposing efficiency savings on the rest, would save taxpayers a total of around €668m.

Not a huge amount of money in the grand scheme of things, but the symbolic value of Europe's failure to address even the most obvious examples of waste and bureaucratic inertia, speaks volumes.


Ray said...

Mostly staffed by Trade Union representatives is a phrase that immediately puts fear into me. The cynic in me thinks that these are committees put in place for future use. Ready to control and implement the dictats of state. Laugh if you must but no cynicism is misplaced with this European nightmare.

Rik said...

Trouble as well for these sort of taxpayer waisters is that communication with the population now has to go direct with these and not like before so often via trade-unions, local political parties. You still reach some people but most you simply reach not at all.
Not even to mention that these intermediate organisations often have as well 'lost' their members etc.

This makes communicating far more difficult. Especially seen the fact that by sleeping when it happened protest votes have organised in populist parties. With 180 degree different way of communicating. What I mean is taking AfD, Grillo or Wilders as examples that say strongly defending the EU means for the traditional political party supporters the way it should basically happen. For AfD or Wilders supporters however the same thing is a confirmation that traditional politics and the EU stink. And so a furtehr incentive to vote for these new kids.

That is why it is eg imho the most important issue that AfD simply gets a lot of media attention. What the 70-80% traditionalist want to hear and the politicians representing them will say works as the best PR for a protest party. And by giving it media attention simply puts the populists on the map.
If you are Farage or Wilders you want the enemy, say Barosso (disliked by probably at least between 20-50% of the voters looking at poles) get head first in against you.

Of course there are stategies that avoids a lot of the damage. But look at Germany: Steinbruck traditional worldsaving socialist and Schauble (bit dodgy Finance Min) already ran full force in this media trap. AfD needs to adress protest voters, non-voters, people desillusioned with politics. That is their market. Not active CDU, Green or SPD members. The bulk of their potential voters is in the former group.
Cameron as well does a relatively poor job still in this respect. Woke up at least 1 year too late (which cannot be reversed) and still doesnot make the right moves. Taking the desillusioned UKIP serious and opens up to them (not only taking over policies). People feel unhappy not taking seriously, the choice to vote UKIP at least in the polls is largely an emotional one.
And in the process of doing that presents himself as the practical real world alternative. Compared to the wishful thinking of the populists. Reestablish the emotional link and make clear that there are limits to what is practically possible. Plus that UKIP will never get to No.10 (a vote for Farage is one for Messrs Ed (have a look how Rutte and Dutch labour did that the last election, they got 30-40% of their votes by strategic voting).

Jesper said...

Recent events highlights what is prioritised by Eurocrats.

They are faced with a shortage of cash and therefore they fund what they deem to be most important and cut what they consider to be the least important.

First to be cut is Erasmus. Does that mean that Erasmus is seen as the least important of all the things that get funded through the EU-budget?

Which quangos are more important than Erasmus? Which quango is the least important quango? Which quango is the most important quango?

Might be easier to get the EU-budget to balance by simply closing quangos until the given funds are sufficient to the rest. Would that be possible to do without EP involvement?

Would love to see EUrocrats showing their solidarity if they'd have to fight among themselves for funding - surviving by pointing out waste and uselessness in each others quangos...

Rik said...

Seen from another angle.

The EU is an organisation that clearly has a huge PR problem. One that is likely to get even worse as the negative Euro and economic stories donot look like a thing of the past but are far more likely here to stay for the next couple of years. Nearly impossible to upgrade your popularity in an enviroment of largely bad to very bad news.

These committees simply give an ideal target for attacks.
Likely being 'countered' by some moronic defence, which makes things even worse. Not only because of that defence itself but also because of the extra media coverage of EU garbage it will generate.

The amounts are relatively small but that is hardly important for an audience that usually donot grasp the difference between a Bn and a Tn (at least not in the way they think, the amounts are simply too large).

In that respect it is probably best to give the enemy a face (and an ugly one). Agencies or Committees is too abstract. Better take one like the EESC (need to change the treaty to get rid of it an aditional advantage). Almost certainly the defence will be worst than crap and by say the new capo of it (a dodgy Southener for the Northern public). That would give it a real life face which is much better to dislike.

Rik said...

Interesting points:
-Fully agree that priority setting is horrible (and so is effective management).

-However it is also what is legally possible to stop (not only what they think is most important).

-Would indeed be a good idea to get the discussion between Eurocrats started what the priorities should be. Mainly so people also know how much money is spent on what and set that off against the proceeds.
Probably last budget talks and the one on the running deficit will start such a process. When cuts have to be made clear choices usually have to be made as well.
Hopefully people like Cameron and Hague keep this discussion going. A lot more cuts look possible or alternatively could be better spent.

Rollo said...

"The EESC exists in order to act as "a bridge between Europe and organised civil society" "
Obviously not working; there is no connect between 'Europe' as represented by Brussels and the real world. But neither is any connect needed, nor is Brussels needed.

Anonymous said...

It is surely not unreasonable to expect full accounting and explanation from these shadowy bodies. What influence do they peddle, what bribes and inducements do they offer.

£130m spread around could buy the loyalty of an awful lot of influence in universities, local authorities and the like. Perhaps these are some of the reasons why there are so many in quasi-official roles whose support for the EU is unswerving and irrational.

Anonymous said...

The more than 3,000 excessively overpaid "working groups" and the other layers of impenetrable bureaucracy are typical of any tyrannical system of state control.

They serve as a buffer of availability and un-answerability between those "governing" and those being "governed"

Every tyrannical state uses them.

Just look at how much the EUSSR bureaucracy is paid -- per position. The salaries are exorbitant, so that those raking them in will defend to the death their access to them and, thus, by default, the tyrannical system that generates them.

Anonymous said...

In short, it's all a load of bunkum, and we are paying for it.

AuntyEUnice said...

Just more ticks on the hog ready to sing the praises of the EU for a day out on expenses.

mike said...

Contrary to the US, the EU is just another layer of overhead. No hand-on responsability, just freewheeling in the office.

Eurocrats are living the high-life. Any European taxpayer should be entitled to get a free tour in Brussels. "Ladies and gentlemen, at your right plenty of bustling bars, at oyur left a healthy property market. Please take a look at the busy airport on Friday evening. Discover the luxury escort bureaus,... It's all on the tax payer!"

I bet Draghi will soon ask for more staff. A couple of thousand fat cats in Frankfurt enjoying tax-free expat & lodging fees, lower tax rates etc.

The same goes for the European diplomatic arm, the EU army,... all ON TOP OF existing layers, not instead of.

Marianne B. said...

Please allow me to add my findings after several years of research on the EU.

I find the imperial ambition of this coercive federal super-state EU increasingly alarming, to say the least, considering its methods of enforcing federalisation, its anti-democratic structure with the UNELECTED Commission on the top of the decision-making hierarchy, its deceitful ways of resurrecting the EU Constitution, which had been formerly discarded by the peoples of EU, and reinstating it as "Lisbon Treaty".

The crisis in Europe is actually sealed and fostered by the EU. Only those states have a chance to recover from this crisis and move on which are outside of the EU (like Iceland, which refused joining the EU, and out of the EU even recovered from the consequent revenge financial attack on its banking system) while once great countries like Ireland have been reduced to a wrack ever since it was grabbed by the EU.

Apparently the new definition of the concept "democracy" understood by the EU is the exact opposite of the real meaning of the word. Accordingly, any country is considered "democracy" as long as it surrenders to the EU's imperial-colonising ambitions, whereas any attempt moving away from such control towards independence is considered a "threat against democracy". This is far from surprising if we consider the very circumstances of the birth of this empire.

See article and video:

"The demo version of kratos: the sad moment when the totalitarian United States of Europe (USE) was born"

David Horton said...

I'd never heard of this EESC.

Which is very worrying. I thought I knew of every pointless EU money pit.

OK, so this august organ exists in recognition that most people living in the EU area (I loathe the term ‘EU citizens’) feel distant from the EU.

True enough.
For 'distant', read a few dozen light-aeons.

Nice ideas but saving £600m by scrapping 10 quangos doesn't amount to a hill of beans. That is less than a fortnight of Britain's net EU contribution. To save proper money, you have to scrap the body that commissions these quangos.

OpenEurope is doing a sterling job in highlighting the failings & inadequacies of the EU and its components. Thanks for your work, but frankly, you are up against it. I think that the EU’s capacity for being wasteful, unnecessary, inept and undemocratic is greater than anyone can imagine.