The Taxpayers’ Alliance, the right wing pressure group, has been dealing with EU questions with a report entitled “EU Diplomats.” The report’s author, Lee Rotherham, is a well known right-leaning eurosceptic, and the report departs in a well worn vein: anything the European Union does is about creating a state, and hence it must be wasteful. Of course this did not stop the eurosceptic press and blogs jumping on the bandwaggon and citing the report in recent days.
Let’s look at the numbers Rotherham comes up with. The headline figure is that the European Union spends €3.4 billion a year on External Actions. Set this in the context of the EU’s annual budget of €120 billion, itself less than the budget of the government of Sweden and indeed less than the cash paid out by the Department of Work and Pensions in benefits in the UK each year, it’s not as if the EU is spending vast quantites of money on its external activities. The money is also not spent on salaries as the Taxpayers’ Alliance imply with their intentionally vague wording; these funds are used for purposes such as strengthening democratic institutions in countries beyond Europe’s borders and for post-conflict reconstruction.
Indeed it has long been a priority for the UK government, and David Miliband in particular, that the European Union should be involved in dealing with practical matters that its Member States could not do alone. Given that the EU comprises 6 large countries and 21 small ones without major diplomatic corps, the rationale for the EU acting beyond Europe’s borders is clear.
The report also cites concerns about the level of pay officials working in the European Commission’s offices overseas receive. As has been clearly seen in the UK, public sector pay budgets are currently tight and a good case has to be made to maintain staffing numbers in the UK’s missions overseas. The EU must not be immune to similar pressure. With a new European Commissioner for External Relations (or High Representative for Foreign Policy should the Treaty of Nice be ratified) due to be appointed this autumn, an examination of staffing arrangements is undoubtedly needed.