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Sunday 1 October 2023 Dublin: 16°C
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Aaron McKenna Money, Money, Must Be Funny In A Eurocrat's World
Bailed-out Ireland is to contribute an additional €90 million to the European Union to help plug a shortfall in its 2013 budget. Ludicrous? Yes – but it’s hardly a blip on the radar of incongruity that is the EU’s funny money parade, writes Aaron McKenna.

IT WAS REVEALED during the week that Ireland, which you may recall is currently in a bailout programme, is to contribute an additional €90 million to the European Union to help plug a shortfall in its 2013 budget. The €7.2 billion deal for the year doesn’t even cover the whole overrun, which is €11.2 billion in all at a time when the EU is standing on member states’ heads to reduce their deficits.

It’s rather ludicrous to consider that we will in effect be borrowing €90 million from the troika, two thirds of which is branches of the EU, to give back to Europe. Yet in the grand scheme of the funny money parade that is the EU it’s hardly a blip on the radar of incongruity.

A modest reduction in spending… for the first time ever

The deal to cover the shortfall comes in parallel to the negotiations on the near trillion euro budget for the union over the next seven years. The Eurocrats had originally been looking for an increase on the previous budget period, as they always have; but thanks to determined argument from countries like the UK there will be a modest reduction in spending for the first time ever.

That it took having an argument to get a budget that reflects even modestly the scale of belt tightening going on across Europe speaks to the disconnect in Eurocratic society to the rest of us. When one is living on an average wage of €78,500 and paying only 16 per cent income tax on it, sending children to private schools for free and retiring with a pension of 70 per cent of final salary it can be a little difficult to empathise with the woes of ordinary folks.

Austerity is a foreign concept in Brussels, where they’re throwing up a €315 million redevelopment of the Résidence Palace to house the President of the Council; and the Parliament opened a €21 million visitors’ centre to glorify itself late last year. That is to say nothing of the estimated €200 million it costs annually to shift the European Parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg six times a year for a mere two day sitting each time.

Mismanagement, embezzlement and improper use of funds

The EU budget didn’t concern us very much in the past. For one, we were a major beneficiary of European funds for most of our time in the union and even today we do well in certain sectors. If a politician fixed the road for you at any time since 1973, there’s a decent chance the EU played a role. For seconds, when times were good during the latter boom years nobody noticed much profligacy at home, let alone off in Eurocratic la-la land.

Things have changed, however. We are living in austere times when governments all across Europe have to change the way they do business.

You may recall scoffing at tales from Greece, where everyone it seems has a job in the public sector and another one in the private sector they don’t pay taxes for. A most amusing story did the rounds of a major hospital in Athens that employed over 40 gardeners despite having no garden.

Did you also hear the story about the man who received a grant of €220,000 to build a facility on his farm to process and store fruit, but built himself a house instead? Or the payment to a farmer for his 150 fictitious sheep? Perhaps the €441,000 for a dog fitness and rehabilitation centre that was never built; or the €500,000 paid to two fishermen to scrap their fishing vessel and reduce overfishing, which they used to buy a new boat?

The Court of Auditors has refused to sanction a budget in 18 years

These things didn’t happen in naughty Greece, however. They happened all over Europe, from Italy to Sweden; Ireland to Poland. They happened using European money that is blown to the tune of €5 billion per year in mismanagement, embezzlement or improper use. That’s three times the amount of money that Irish taxpayers contribute to the EU. The Court of Auditors refuses to sign off on European accounts if the mismanagement rate is more than two per cent of the total budget. They haven’t signed off on a budget in eighteen years.

That’s just the money that gets robbed. The EU is pretty good at wasting money in above board fashion, too. Andalucía’s regional government got €7.5 million to spend between 2007 and 2013 on PR that aims to “reinforce the message of the achievements in Andalucía thanks to European funds.” The EU spent €72 million on an anti-smoking “HELP” campaign, which included “a giant inflatable structure which will tour all EU capitals”. In the same year, they spent €293 million to subsidise tobacco farmers.

Blowing money in style

On projects big and small the Eurocrats know how to blow money in style. It seems that any old silly idea can get funding. €16,000 to Tyolean farmers to “boost their emotional connection with the landscape” or €5,000 on “Eurogaloppo”, a German “Europe-Horse” to teach children about the EU. Presumably they didn’t tell the kinder about a €54,000 grant paid to the Spanish town of Chirivel to fund a riding school. In a manner of speaking, the grant did the job: The site was converted into an establishment called “Seventh Heaven”, a brothel.

The EU can play a positive role, but as a giant self-managing bureaucracy it is a classic example of “Spend Your Budget Or You’ll Get Less Next Year” public sector writ large. There is nobody interested enough or empowered to go in and deal with the waste and mismanagement that is as bad as anything to be found among the PIIGS nations.

Until that changes the European Union can sod off looking for another €90 million from us. I’d sooner open up a few wards in our hospitals.

Aaron McKenna is a businessman and a columnist for He is also involved in activism in his local area. You can find out more about him at or follow him on Twitter @aaronmckenna. To read more columns by Aaron click here.

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