Who Paid for It?

“Who paid for this?” inquired a skeptical voice from the back of the group upon passing first the Rodin sculpture, and 20 paces ahead, the exquisite Miro that interrupted the hollow whitewashed museum of an entry hall.

“Well, most of it comes from the EU’s annual budget, and the rest from the settlements that we receive when a state loses a case.”

“And where,” I asked myself, “does that settlement money come from?”

Our guide delighted in pointing out that, while the statues themselves were donated, it costs more for them to be insured every year than he earns. This was clearly a point of contention for his colleagues, who had gathered inside the palatial lobby to protest about an apparently unsatisfactory salary.

This was at the European Court of Justice, but could have just as easily have been at any of the dozen institutions we’ve visited. Each was lavish, ultramodern, and – if I can inject the first of my criticisms here – entirely over-the-top and unnecessary.

Perhaps if it had been just one institution I might have shrugged it off. But there are so many of them: there’s the Council of Europe, the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Court of Justice, the European Parliament, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Commission, the European Court of Auditors, etc.

The list is astounding, and if I was so inclined, I could regale you for weeks on end with the various other offices and acronyms, the treaties that created them and the excessively long job titles of the people who run them. I’ll humor you with just one: The High Representative of Common Foreign and Security Policy and the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy were effectively merged to form the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. This official, Catherine Ashton, since you asked, also acts as Vice President of the Commission, administrator of the European Defense Agency AND the External Action Service.

Most Europeans have no idea that half of these institutions even exist, and many of these “Eurocrats” aren’t directly elected. Even in the case that they are elected, the mere fact that a country is part of the EU means that the will of the people of one country – rather, the will of it’s leaders – is tied to the will of another. Given the enormous scope and diversity of the EU, there is just no feasible way to operate without undermining democracy.

I’m utterly bemused by the Europeans’ apparent love for bureaucracy. They just – they adore it. You will find no shortage of committees, councils, commissions, services, agencies, administrations, and programs dedicated to practically everything.

To be fair, the US boasts some equally overarching bureaucracy, but there are legions of Americans for whom the “B” word is a thing to be scorned. I don’t get a sense that that is a popular attitude here. People seem to have learned to love (or at the very least live with) the fact that you could maypole dance your way around the continent with all the red tape.

I suppose I wouldn’t find it so astounding if the Western world wasn’t hokey-pokeying around an economic sinkhole. If you consider that the 2012 EU budget is 147,200,000,000€ and there 503,500,000 citizens in the EU, that works out to be 292.35€ per person. Considering that I spent roughly 30€ each week at the supermarket, that works out to be about 10 weeks of groceries for me.

Of course it’s nice for every Eurocrat to have a corner office in some palatial building in Strasbourg or Brussels or Luxembourg (the fact that it’s a traveling circus adds another layer of absurdity to it), but Who Paid For It?

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