This Spring I lived and worked in Luxembourg, where I wrote this piece on dissimulation in discussions of the EU budget:
While in UK terms I’m pretty pro-European (international cooperation and open borders… yay!), working here in Luxembourg I have found myself converted into the grumbling Eurosceptic at the party, spoiling everyone else’s fun.
I am highly conscious that buildings, staff, and activities I see in the European institutions here are all funded by taxpayer money. Mostly German and Danish taxpayers, sure, but let’s not kid ourselves that they can afford, or want, to throw away their hard-earned dough.
I noticed on my first day that everyone is very keen to emphasize how SMALL their budgets are, and how LITTLE taxpayer money they spend. So far, so good, but suspiciously, they seem very reluctant to directly declare any total quantities of money. Instead, they’ll say things like ‘the EU budget is a mere 1% of EU GDP’, or ‘my department has the smallest budget of any EU department’ or ‘EU translation and language services cost each citizen just 2 Euros per year’.
How soothing! 1%! 2 euros! It’s the price of a cup of coffee. They’re such tiny, tiny numbers we can surely all rest easy in our beds…
But, hang on. What is EU GDP? Because 1% of an enormous number is still an enormous number. And how many EU citizens are there? Because lots of people multiplied by 2 = lots of Euros. (marvel at my mathematical wizardry!)
A recent Eurostat report on GDP managed to not mention the actual figure once. It’s €12.5 trillion. Just let that sink in. That means the EU budget is 120 billion euros.
The EU’s population? 500 million people, give or take a few, meaning that 2 euros a head adds up to a billion euros spent on language services annually.
It’s not my aim here to say whether the EU budget is too big or too small. That would be (cue undergraduate-essay escape parachute…) ‘beyond the scope’ of this blog post. What I do plead is that, instead of putting their energies into downplaying their budgets, EU officials make more effort to justify them.
So, the EU spends 1 billion euros a year translating all of its documents into the 23 official languages of the Union? Don’t tell me that’s not a lot of money. Make the argument as to why preserving linguistic diversity is important (and explain how that billion euros is enough to translate everything into Irish and Maltese, but doesn’t stretch to Catalan, which is far more widely spoken).
Same for the budget as a whole, because, let’s be honest, when we’re talking about billions and trillions of euros, we’re talking about a lot of money, and to pretend anything else is just an insult to our intelligence.