Back Scratch Fever

by Andrew Stuttaford

Writing in City A.M, Tom Miers shines a much-needed light on an aspect of the institutional corruption that is so characteristic of how Brussels operates:

[T]he line that used to divide the voluntary sector from the state is being eroded. An extraordinary symbiosis has developed, for instance, at the heart of the European Union between the European Commission and powerful non governmental organisations (NGOs) – often big international charities – that have become expert at extracting funds from government… Every year, the EU spends some €7.5bn (£6.3bn) on these organisations, and they are ever more dependent on taxpayer largesse. The relationship has become vital for each side. Eight of the “Green 10” – a coalition of some of the biggest environmental NGOs – receive at least one third of their income from the Commission, and five get more than half. In return, NGOs offer badly needed kudos for the EU’s activities…

…About a third of the money spent directly on NGOs by the Commission is taken by a small group of two dozen large NGOs with big lobbying offices in Brussels. Increasingly reliant on EU money, they have a direct interest in the EU increasing its revenues, and they lobby accordingly. Oxfam, the biggest recipient of EU charitable funds in 2010, has lobbied in favour of the EU Financial Transactions Tax, as have NGOs like Health Poverty Action and War on Want, which received between 28 per cent and 20 per cent of their income in that year from the EU. Other favourite causes for these NGOs are higher tariffs, nationalisation, higher fuel taxes, more trade regulation, less competition and higher public borrowing. The Commission is fostering a cuckoo that seems implacably hostile to the core principles of the EU, and its central function of wealth creation in a single market. One of the EU’s justifications in funding NGOs is that it wants to foster civil society. But in truth, for government to fund what should be voluntary associations is counterproductive. Our report shows that spending on NGOs does not match the priorities of real citizens. In the UK, for example, voluntary donations made by the public go in large part towards charities with a focus on medicine (32 per cent), religion (16 per cent) and children (11 per cent). This does not remotely coincide with EU spending on NGOs, which overwhelmingly (59 per cent) goes on overseas development. This mismatch suggests that the EU is not only ignoring citizens’ priorities, but that its money also skews the aims and purposes of NGOs themselves. As charities become ever more dependent on government money, they adapt their activities accordingly by undertaking projects they think might win them grants, rather than what the public is interested in.

…[T]he EU and its NGOs have bound their priorities, their policies and their outlook together – to the exclusion of citizens and voters.

And at their expense. Par for the course.

And while we are on this topic, don’t forget this not unrelated story that I posted a while back on the Corner. Here’s an extract (quoting the Spectator’s James Forsyth):

Ministers from countries who favour fracking were surprised then to find that Jeremy Wates, the secretary general of the European Evironmental Bureau, was present at a recent meeting of the European Environmental Council hosted by the Lithuanian presidency [Lithuania currently holds the revolving 'presidency' of the EU's Council]. Wates was not only in the room, sitting through the entire ministerial discussion, but also had the opportunity to address the council at the end of the meeting. He took the chance to vent all the alarmist ‘green’ arguments against shale.

The bureau has no democratic mandate; it is just a collection of NGOs. But it was still invited to the meeting. As Paterson remarked, no one had asked a representative of pensioners in fuel poverty to come and explain to the council why they would like to see their energy bills come down.

To add insult to injury, the taxpayer is providing the means by which the EEB has influence.

Quite how this sewer can be ‘reformed’ (as David Cameron argues is possible) is beyond me. It is what it is.