The European Union has spent nearly one trillion dollars to unify the continent by delivering highways and trains into places where there were once gravel paths. In current dollars, that is over eight times the size of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II. The EU has built airports and bridges, trams and swimming pools. It has repaired castles and medieval churches.
It hasn’t bought love.
To the vexation of European leaders, some of the biggest recipients of funding are now hotbeds of discontent, brimming with voters disquieted by the cultural and political pressures that have accompanied European integration, and threatening the bloc’s cohesion.
The biggest recipient of EU cohesion funds in mainland France is Nord-Pas-de-Calais, once an industrial powerhouse of coal, steel and textiles. In parliament, it is represented by Marine Le Pen, the French presidential runner-up who proposed France hold an EU exit referendum.
Many locals say EU funding was overshadowed by the disadvantages of membership, including the obligation to accept migrants from other EU nations. Blaenau Gwent voters favored Brexit by 62% to 38% to leave the EU in 2016. It was Wales’ highest “leave” vote.
The future of the EU still hangs in the balance, with divisions over refugees in particular driving wedges between its member states. If copious spending during decades of European optimism couldn’t revive fading communities or unite the continent, EU officials worry about what comes next. Rising nationalism is pitting smaller, eastern countries against larger, western powers.
EU funding can carry onerous rules and stipulations involving complex paperwork and restrictions on project types, irking recipients. East European nationalists allege that much of the money flows back to German and French construction companies.
Donor countries have soured on cohesion funds, too, partly because of alleged corruption among recipients. In Hungary, where skepticism of the EU runs thick, the bloc’s antifraud agency says $47.8 million spent upgrading street lamps through EU contracts awarded to a company once owned by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s son-in-law contained “serious irregularities” that may constitute fraud. The son-in-law denies the accusation. Mr. Orban says Hungary no longer needs EU cash.
Who Gives, Who Gets?
Donors and Recipients Both Unhappy
Recipients are unhappy because of immigration and strings attached to the money. The donors are unhappy their money is going elsewhere.
Coming up, Brexit will leave a big hole in cohesion budget.The UK was the third largest contributor. For what?
Mike "Mish" Shedlock