...That was how EU Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski presented his 2012 EU budget proposal, tabled today.
With such a heading it must include lots of belt tightening, better targeting and some relief for those European governments whose budget is already incredibly strained, right?
To the surprise of no one, the proposal includes increasing the budget by 4.9% (€6.2bn), around 2% more than average inflation in the EU. I don't know about you, but we wouldn't usually describe that as austerity.
Needles to say, given that all EU members are trying to cut spending, increase taxes and impose varying austerity levels onto taxpayers, we have a feeling that Lewandowski's proposal won't be met by cheers in many countries. Below we have a breakdown of what we estimate each country’s increased contributions to the EU budget will be under the proposal - based on the projected national share of contributions for 2011, as forecast by the Commission (it's a moving target since you're never be quite sure what the actual contributions are until the money is paid out.)
We're looking at a €769m (£680m) increase for the UK. This is dwarfed by the €1.2bn that is added to Germany's EU bill for next year under the proposal (quite apart from the €100bn+ in loan guarantees that the country's taxpayers are already liable for through the bail-out packages). The French, who are beginning to realise that they are now net contributors to the EU budget, are on the hook for an extra €1bn - not exactly pocket change. The Netherlands, whose Government is now asking uncomfortable questions about the EU's external aid (partly as a result of our recent report on the topic) are on the hook for another €309 million. For all the contributions see table below (click to enlarge - these figures are gross contribution, meaning that in reality some countries might actually get more cash back than what they pay in, for example Spain).
Comically the Commission's press release outlines the fact that "bills must be paid", alluding to the fact that the Commission has committed to various projects which still are running. This argument is weak. Although it's true that the EU budget can't run a deficit, meaning less room for manoeuvre compared to national budgets, there's no reason whatsoever why the Commisison, MEPs and member states can't come together to prioritise and re-shuffle, since funds are clearly getting tighter. Just as national governments are forced to prioritise. As we note in our response to the proposal, there's plenty of fat to cut in the EU budget, from the 50 or so EU quangos, to paying non-farmers not to farm, to recycling 'cohesion' funds between some of Europe's richest regions. And, seriously, does Europe really need projects like these...(click link for examples)
We're sorry, Mr. Lewandowski , this proposal is neither for "500 million Europeans" nor for "times of austerity". In fact, it's quite the opposite.