The EU isn’t a state

PS’s piece on EU blogging last week made a very good argument about its core proposition that EU funding of blogging would be a terrible and counter-productive thing (thanks again to @ronpatz for taking sure I read it!).

As an aside, PS noted that that EU’s budget goes very disproportionately to agriculture, the result (he argued) of effective lobbying by farmers.  I can agree with that as an argument, but it’s worth just exploring some of the assumptions behind that and their related arguments, since they rarely get discussed.  It also gives me an opportunity to talk about the budget, which my colleagues know is a secret passion of mine.

Just to remind, here’s how the budget breaks down in 2012:

Since the reform of the budget structure some years ago, this is less obvious than it used to be, but in essence CAP spending falls under the green segments, and cohesion under the blue.

The argument that gets made (and I’m not suggesting PS does this) is that this distribution of spending shows how out of touch the EU is with real-world concerns, since agriculture is such a small part of EU GDP or employment (e.g. the BBC or Open Europe), while not spending on jobs or growth instead.

The point that seems to get lost in this is that the EU isn’t a state and doesn’t do the same things as a state, so its expenditure is not the same as a state’s.  I agree that CAP spending is in dire need of major reform, but member states did agree that spending in this field (pun not intended) should be europeanised, while retaining most other areas of government spending in national budgets.  The only way to reduce CAP spending as a percentage of the EU budget is to spend relatively more on other policy areas.  Given that no one is really suggesting that the EU takes over social security, pensions, education, health or defence budgets, there’s not much that can really be done.  Even reducing CAP spending on direct aid will not radically change matters, given the shift to rural development instead.

Once again, this is the use of an inappropriate yard-stick to measure the EU, albeit one that a short reflection could simply correct.