The UK Financial Contribution to the EU

There’s so much misunderstanding and distortion flying around about the United Kingdom’s contribution to the European Budget and what it might be spent on if we left the EU that I just thought I would post this for information. It shows official figures from HMRC for 2014. Similar pie charts are available for other years, but often they include the EU contribution under “other” which is why I’ve chosen this particular one. Also, I’m very lazy and it came up first on Google…

fat cut

Although it’s a lot of money in cash terms, it’s very small compared to current expenditure on, e.g. Health, Education and Welfare and even compared to the interest payments on our national debt. Saving this contribution would not make sufficient financial resources  available to make a significant difference to these other big ticket  items. Note also that if the UK loses its current credit rating, the expense of servicing our debt will increase by an amount that could easily on its own wipe out the saving on our EU subscription.

And of course what we get for that relatively small contribution is access to beneficial trade agreements, inward investment from EU companies and other sources, and access to the science programmes. You may disagree, of course, but I think it’s money very well spent.

 

 

37 Responses to “The UK Financial Contribution to the EU”

  1. So, the debate around the UK’s contribution to the EU budget might well be an example of Parkinson’s law of triviality. As a wise old colleague of mine used to say, “it doesn’t show up in the roundings.”

    But it’s not about economics, is it. The issue really bothering those who want out is sovereignty.

    • telescoper Says:

      So people say. I wish I could understand what that means, though. Sovereignty is such a nebulous concept in a world that’s so interconnected and interdependent. It seems to me that in the EU we do have sovereignty over the things that really matter.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        It’s plain enough what it means. You can vote the people who make our laws in Westminster out. Not so, the EU.

      • telescoper Says:

        You can vote in the elections to the European Parliament. And the Council of Ministers consists of representatives of the elected governments of member countries.

        It is true that members of the Commission are not directly elected, but they are appointed by Parliament. In any case they only draft legislation when invited to by the elected bodies. Any such laws that have been drafted are then scrutinised, modified or rejected by Parliament. And none can be enacted in any country without approval. It seems to me a very democratic process, with numerous checks and balances on power.

        Contrast our own unelected House of Lords….

      • To a large extent that is true. The main problem with the EU, in my view, is that the EU parliament a) cannot suggest laws (it can only veto or approve laws suggested by the commission) and b) cannot raise any taxes (the EU being financed by member contributions). The commissioners are sent by the member countries.

        The other side of this is: any EU law you don’t like was certainly not suggested by the EU parliament (and most certainly not by some “bureaucrat”).

      • telescoper Says:

        The Commission is “commissioned” to draft laws. It doesn’t just make make them up on a whim.

      • Of course, I should add that it is good that the EU parliament is at least elected via PR, even in the UK. Without PR, it is not always possible to vote out the lawmakers in the EU parliament, even if a majority wants to do so.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        The people of Britain can vote out the government of Britain. They cannot vote out the government of Europe, yet that government makes a significant number of our laws.

      • telescoper Says:

        We can’t vote out the House of Lords…

      • telescoper Says:

        Do you feel the same way about Scotland? They have pooled sovereignty in the United Kingdom. They voted to remain. Do you think they should have voted for independence?

      • So the situation is similar to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland: a significant fraction of the laws are made in London, yet these countries, alone, cannot vote out the lawmakers. For that matter, similar to any smaller unit of a larger entity, unless all laws are passed only by legislative bodies at the corresponding level. (Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it is not.)

      • “Do you feel the same way about Scotland? They have pooled sovereignty in the United Kingdom. They voted to remain. Do you think they should have voted for independence?”

        I don’t have an opinion on Scotland; I’m just pointing out that it is a similar situation. Scotland indeed voted for less sovereignty and remaining in the UK, rather than having more sovereignty by leaving it. Presumably they weighed the advantages and disadvantages, as hopefully the UK voters will do in the Brexit referendum.

        I don’t really have an opinion on the UK either. In both cases, though, I think that such questions should indeed be decided by referendum.

        One routinely hears big countries tell (potential) little countries that it is better not to be independent. Think of the split-up of Yugoslavia, the question of independence for the Basque country and Kurdistan, and so on. That might be, but I think the people concerned should be the ones who decide. That is more important. Someone from the Empire told Gandhi all the problems he would face in an independent India. Gandhi said “Yes, but they will be our problems.”

        For the record, I think that division of labour is a good thing, and hence favour parliamentary democracy. But it is a means to an end, and sometimes the majority in parliament doesn’t reflect the majority in the population (even with PR, i.e. quite apart from the swingometer, first past the post, jerrymandering, two-party systems etc). In such cases, a referendum makes sense, with this restrictions:

        1. The referendum must be started by a popular initiative, not from parliament or the executive. (The whole point is for the voice of the people to be heard, which includes allowing them to say what is important.)

        2. All outcomes (usually there are just two, yes and no) must be “constitutional” and otherwise legal. (There would need to be y signatures to bring it to vote. After x signatures have been reached, with x less than y, a court would have to decide whether all outcomes are legal.) (A waste of time if the result turns out to be illegal.)

        3. The referendum must be binding and converted into law within a reasonable time. (Otherwise parliament could effectively veto it.)

        4. The result of a referendum can be overturned only by another referendum. (Otherwise parliament could effectively veto it.)

        5. A referendum must be concerned with what is essentially a yes/no question. (Most questions can be phrased yes/no, and most yes/no questions need to have the details clarified. The point is whether the yes/no aspect is the main aspect. In the case of leaving the EU, adopting another currency, and so on it clearly is. In the case of a constitution or treaty it is not (though the question whether one wants a constitution or treaty at all would be).

      • “It is true that members of the Commission are not directly elected, but they are appointed by Parliament.

        Contrast our own unelected House of Lords….”

        One could argue that both the Lords and the Commissioners are similar in that neither is directly elected but both are appointed by someone who was elected.

  2. The UK is one of the least democratic countries in Europe: House of Lords, no PR, monarchy. Complaining about the EU being not democratic enough is a bit strange.

    The real issue is whether one wants to be part of the EU or not; all other things are details.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      I’m not interested in lessons in democracy from the Continent!

      • In any case, surely any debate should focus on the issue and not on the residence of the participants.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        History. Which embeds a tradition.

      • “History. Which embeds a tradition.”

        Presumably a reply to my “Why not?” query.

        I suggest looking into the “Don’t mention the war” essay contest, which was supported by John Cleese. This involved English youths spending a few weeks with a gay barber in Berlin or whatever and writing about their experiences. Many English have a completely antiquated view of Germany. When I was working at Jodrell Bank, occasionally I had to avoid hooligans when driving my German car (with German registration plates). Is that really the level of dialogue which is appropriate?

        The point is that if you assume—despite massive evidence to the contrary—that the current generation somehow inherits the guilt of previous ones, then there is less motivation for people to actually learn from history. “Even if we do everything right, people will still hate us for what our ancestors did.” Not a way to improve the state of the world. Racism, pure and simple.

        Since practically every country has bad periods in the past, including the UK (need I mention colonialism?), why not just hate everyone?

        I still fail to see the logic in rejecting an argument not because one disagrees with it, but because of the source. Even if you think the source is somehow incompetent, it is an old rule of logic that the competence of the source isn’t necessarily related to the truth of the proposition; the biggest fool can say that the Sun will rise tomorrow, but that doesn’t make it dark.

        Attacking the messenger, rather than disagreeing with the message, is stooping pretty low.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        The UK has a long and deep and unbroken tradition of democracy. Traditions are things that are embedded in a people and cannot be changed so easily. Continental countries have no such tradition. I am glad that they are democratic but the depth of embedding in the people is what matters – and what you are discounting. I am not talking about inherited guilt; my words neither said that nor implied it.

      • “The UK has a long and deep and unbroken tradition of democracy.

        Longer than many places, yes. (Of course, the amount of democracy in the colonies during the Empire was severely limited. If you invoke the past, don’t pick cherries.) But, in itself, that doesn’t mean that the UK must be better in this respect. That would be like claiming that an old university is automatically better than a young one.

        There is a tendency (also prevalent in the States) to say “since we’ve had democracy longer, it must automatically be better”, when by any objective criterion it is actually worse. Some processes might have been the best possible a few hundred years ago, but should be replaced if there are better ones today.

        “Traditions are things that are embedded in a people and cannot be changed so easily.”

        That depends on many things. In some countries, among some societies, in certain groups, yes, traditions are hard to change. In others, change is rapid. Due to its relative isolation, traditions might be stronger in the UK, but this doesn’t allow one to assume that they are equally strong elsewhere.

        “Continental countries have no such tradition.”

        That is an exaggeration. None at all? Really?

        “I am glad that they are democratic but the depth of embedding in the people is what matters”

        And how do you judge this? Have you ever lived on the Continent? Visited it for an appreciable length of time?

        “and what you are discounting.”

        I’m not discounting it, but simply viewing it from my perspective. I’ve lived in several different countries and have spend a substantial amount of time (several months or more) in others. I speak the local languages (which is esential for learning what people really think). Of course, my experience influences my views.

        “I am not talking about inherited guilt; my words neither said that nor implied it.”‘

        They certainly implied that someone from the Continent discussing democracy is automatically disqualified. OK, replace “guilt” by “lack of tradition”. Some countries have a longer scientific tradition than others, but there are certainly people who come from a country without such a tradition who make valuable contributions (and even win Nobel Prizes). Your attitude would say “their work can have no scientific value—I don’t even have to read their papers—because they come from a country without a scientific tradition”.

        If the UK want to leave the EU, fine. As I’ve said here and elsewhere many times, it is good that there is a referendum to decide this. My point is that insufficient democracy (and there are deficits) in the EU is a rather strange argument for leaving the UK coming from someone in the UK who thinks of the UK as sufficiently democratic, recalling pots, kettles, and appelations regarding dark colours.

      • The UK has has universal suffrage since 1928 when the remaining property qualifications for women were removed by the Equal Franchise Act. Countries which had universal suffrage before this include Finland (1906), Denmark (1915), The Netherlands (1919) and Norway (1913). The UK has had universal male suffrage since 1918, this was introduced in France in 1792. The UK only abolished plural voting in 1948. Please do not try to claim that the UK has a tradition of democracy which is absent in mainland Europe.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip, I don’t think you’ve grasped what I’m saying. I am willing to take responsibility for that.

      • “Phillip, I don’t think you’ve grasped what I’m saying. I am willing to take responsibility for that.”

        Is that because of my ignorance or your unclear formulation? Or both? Or neither? Or are you taking responsibility for my lack of understanding? 🙂

        Your claim was that any discussion of democracy coming from someone on the Continent was automatically disqualified because of a longer tradition of democracy in the UK. Even if that were true (and another comment here has cast doubt on that), it is still not excuse to dismiss the argument itself. Disagree with it, sure, but debate it on its own merits?

        Does anyone else here think that I am barking up the wrong tree (not in relation to my support for PR, but in claiming that an arguments should be debated on its own merits, and not on the place of residence of the opponent)?

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip, I failed to emphasise adequately that the point is the embedding of a tradition within a people, in a way that they themselves are not aware of until or unless events bring it out.

      • “The UK has has universal suffrage since 1928 when the remaining property qualifications for women were removed by the Equal Franchise Act. Countries which had universal suffrage before this include Finland (1906), Denmark (1915), The Netherlands (1919) and Norway (1913). The UK has had universal male suffrage since 1918, this was introduced in France in 1792. The UK only abolished plural voting in 1948. Please do not try to claim that the UK has a tradition of democracy which is absent in mainland Europe.”

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_suffrage#Dates_by_country

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        I do!

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        “The UK has had universal male suffrage since 1918, this was introduced in France in 1792… Please do not try to claim that the UK has a tradition of democracy which is absent in mainland Europe.”

        Anybody who tries to claim that France under the Terror (1793) then Napoleon was superior to England as a democracy (in the only meaningful sense, of being able to vote out the principal decision-makers)… need I finish this sentence?

      • “Anybody who tries to claim that France under the Terror (1793) then Napoleon was superior to England as a democracy (in the only meaningful sense, of being able to vote out the principal decision-makers)… need I finish this sentence?”

        I don’t think that anyone claims this. On the other hand, you claimed no tradition on the Continent. Also, the UK’s policy of taxation without representation in the colonies led to big changes in global politics. (You might claim that colonists shouldn’t be allowed to vote. The same was true of slaves.)

        In any case, more important to most people is the current status of democracy. Otherwise, the Greeks could tell everyone to shut up because they had (a form of) democracy 2500 years ago.

        Also, I still claim that the merits of a claim can be debated independently of the place of residence of the opponents.

    • As a ‘continental’ living in the UK, not sure where I fall on this scale of being allowed to speak. And a bit ironic perhaps, but in this democratic country I don’t have the vote. To get a vote I need to pay quite a lot of money. But in my impression, the UK has the best connection between the MPs and the public, and I am impressed how the local MP (at least our previous one – have not yet heard from the new one) helped people who did not vote for him. On the other hand, Scandinavia has a better tradition of democratic government (i.e. an embedded culture of their politicians), Germany has a better tradition of social responsibility, Italy a better tradition of family responsibility, and France has better coffee. If unbroken length of democratic process is important, Iceland beats the UK by several hundred years, but it may not count as continent.

      • “As a ‘continental’ living in the UK, not sure where I fall on this scale of being allowed to speak.”

        My original point is that the residence (or origin) of the speaker should not be used to determine whether he is allowed to participate in a debate. Anton apparently still believes that this is a valid criterion.

        “And a bit ironic perhaps, but in this democratic country I don’t have the vote.”

        I’ve never understood this argument. Citizens have the right to vote. Allowing residents the right to vote is a bit difficult: How long must one have been resident? 1 year? 1 week? 1 hour? What about multiple residences (same issues as multiple citizenship, but much easier to come by, especially if some of them are bogus). If it’s the only residence, how is this verified? If you plan to stay in the country for a long time, become a citizen. If not, why should you be able to vote on issues which affect the long-term status of the country?

        Some countries allow non-citizen residents to vote in local elections. I don’t really see the point of allowing just these, since politics at higher levels also affect non-citizen residents.

        “I am impressed how the local MP (at least our previous one – have not yet heard from the new one) helped people who did not vote for him”

        How does he know? Did he ask? Usually, a secret vote is considered important (hence forbidding selfies in the voting booth, which in some countries had been used by people selling their vote as proof that they voted as paid to do).

        “Iceland beats the UK by several hundred years, but it may not count as continent.”

        I would argue that, politically, it does, just as the Canary Islands are politically part of Europe, though they are geographically part of Africa.

      • Note that for several years now, there is a general rule that citizens of one EU country who become citizens of another EU country do not have to give up their original citizenship.

        Of course, citizenship implies not only rights but also responsibilities.

  3. Sovereignty, as Peter says, is a very nebulous concept to risk your economic future for. Sovereignty for whom? And over what? Many aspects of our lives are completely ungovernable. The corporate world holds sway over much of what happens.

    At what level should decisions be made? Localism is a bit of a buzz word in local politics. As a councillor at the very lowest tier, we have some debates as to whether we should take more functions from the next tier up (Borough or County councils). But on whichever level governance operates there will be people who feel that it is too remote, and they are not being listened to.

    I feel that Brussels and Strasbourg are no more remote than Westminster. And that there are functions which are more naturally governed from one or the other. As far as the referendum goes, the ideas that our participation in Horizon2020 may be put at risk by exit, and that UK citizens might lose the right of free movement within Europe, are absolutely the killer arguments. And if there is any truth in the Treasury forecasts, if the loss per family is even a tenth of Osbourne’s headline figure, then it is not worth that. So I will be voting to stay.

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    David Cameron has just claimed that Brexit would make a world war more likely. Why doesn’t he just say what he is thinking, that it will cause the mid-atlantic rift to open, inducing a tsunami that will sweep over the country, then a black hole to pass through London and the earth, then the sun to explode?

    • telescoper Says:

      “..the European Community, now the Union, has helped to deliver a period of peace and prosperity as long as any since the days of the Antonine emperors.”

      – Boris Johnson

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        That he now suggests differently says more about Boris Johnson – no hero of mine – than the causes of peace in Western Europe since 1945 (principally NATO, in my view). This is not the only U-turn of Boris’s I could document.

      • telescoper Says:

        Indeed. Turkey’s possible membership is another.

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