Sunday, 5 June 2016

Why Vote Leave - Part 7: Costs

In the run up to the referendum I intend to post a blog each Sunday detailing the reasons why Britain will be better off outside the European Union. These posts will cover the following topics: the economy, influence, democracy, security, the environment, cost, and reform.
One of the most prevalent issues pertaining to the UK's membership of the EU is the cost of that membership and whether or not it represents good value for money. This debate has been muddied exponentially between the various use of gross and net figures, the amount of EU expenditure in the UK, the fact that as a net contributor we fund that expenditure, the cost of regulation, what's seen as EU waste and so on. It's difficult therefore to cut through the hyperbole and come to a conclusion as to whether the vast sums we send each year to Brussels constitute value for money.

Let's start with UK budgetary contributions. Vote Leave's headline grabbing figure of £350 million a week is only partially accurate. It is based off of the UK's gross contribution to the EU budget which, last year, was £17,8 billion. However, this does not take into account the UK's rebate, worth £4.9 billion last year, or public sector receipts worth a further £4.4 billion. So the actual cost of UK membership in 2015 was £8.5 billion. This itself is no small sum, but it's indicative of Vote Leave's incompetence that they opted for the gross figure, leaving themselves open to accusations of being misleading, rather than the net figure which few would argue was inconsequential. The UK's net contribution to the EU budget for the period of 2009 to 2014, taking into account rebates and receipts, was £48.6 billion.

So whilst Vote Leave's figure is somewhat misleading, there's no denying that we are a substantial contributor to the EU budget.

Now, opponents of the Norway option claim that despite not being in the EU, Norway still pays around the same for access to the single market. This is just as inaccurate as Vote Leave's £350 million claim, if not more so. Norway's expenditure relating to the EEA consists of several factors. Firstly there is the 'Norway Grants', aid paid by Norway as a form economic rehabilitation of post-Communist countries. These amounted to around €804 million from 2009 to 2014. Most importantly, this money is not paid to the EU.
There are also EEA grants, for which Norway provides 95% of the funding. This brings the total to €1.8 billion for that 5 year period. EFTA contribution to EU programmes affecting the EEA amounted to €1.7 billion, with Norway providing roughly 96% of the cost. Norway also participates in several EU programmes, including Horizon 2020 and the Erasmus research programmes, as well as participating in 26 EU agencies, relating to health, research, and eduction amongst others.

Norway's contributions are the price paid for a service, and funding is not one way. Norway's net contribution over the period was €620 million, or €90 million per year. Applying this on a pro-rata basis to the UK upon rejoining the EFTA, we would contribute approximately €2.5 billion a year. A large part of this would be for continued participation in many of the same programmes and agencies that we currently enjoy. Finally Norway pays roughly £7 million a year towards the EFTA budget. The UK's contribution in total then, on a pro-rata basis, would be roughly £2.36 billion a year. A saving of nearly £6 billion a year on our current contributions. So whilst being a member of the EEA does involve costs, it still represents a potential 75% haircut on our current financial obligations. Especially with news today that the EU could well be looking to increase our contributions after a Remain vote.

But it's not just the UK's contributions to consider when evaluating how the EU handles it's finances. The EU itself is extremely wasteful, and incredibly opaque when it comes to it's expenditure. Take for example MEP's expenses. European Parliament members can garner huge sums, tax free and without proper scrutiny, on top of their £60k salary in the form of grants and allowances. This doesn't even take into consideration the amount that can be claimed in expenses.

Then there's the travelling circus that once month sees the European Parliament decamp from Brussels to Strasbourg at a cost of around £130 million. This includes loading 5 trucks up full of plastic trunks, that once contained files and papers, but have now been rendered obsolete by email and the internet. It's a perfect example of the EU's general inertia and reluctance to reform it's procedures.

So not only will leaving the EU mean we will pay significantly less for market access, whilst still having - arguably a larger - say over the rules, it will also mean that we can spend money much more wisely, giving greater value to taxpayers.

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