Alfredo De Feo European pratictioner and researcher

In times of economic crisis and instability there is an increased need of mobilization of public funds. At the same time there is scarcity of resources. At European level, Member states are not ready to increase financial allocation to the EU unless, eventually, there is a clear and shared objective. This situation stimulates the research of more efficiency and effectiveness, a better use of resources in terms of concentration and focusing on results and, last but not least, a reassessment at 360° of long lasting policies.

The European construction, at its beginning, was based on two fundamental principles: the subsidiarity and the European added value. The reasons to stay together were linked to the respect of those two principles. EU should legislate only when an action at EU level is more efficient that at national level and that a European added value can be demonstrated. Another principle is the “additionality” of funds. EU funds should not replace national funds but always come as complement. Further to that the allocation of funds should not be directed to a single project but be part of a strategy aligned with EU priorities.

Most of the financing of EU legislation (80%?) is marked by inertia, we continue to finance policies which were essential 60/50 years ago with no serious evaluation of the respect of the subsidiarity and European added value principles. It would be challenging if the Institutions initiated an assessment of all regulations in respect of these principles, a zero based budget exercise led by a true European approach.

The European Parliament (under the leadership of the budgetary control committee) the Court of Auditors and the Commission (for the initiative of VP Kristalina Georgieva) have started a reflection on how to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the European spending, budget for results. The money spent on EU programs is, per se, a sign of success, especially if the error rate is reduced to minimum. The rate of implementation has been perceived, not only by the media, but also by the control bodies of the European Parliament as a distinctive element between a successful and unsuccessful policy. The success of a program, up to now, has been the compliance with the rules and the level of disbursement more that the utility of the European added value of the investment. This exercise is essential but, for the time being, totally internal to the system. The Institutions should find the political courage to go beyond the enhancement of the implementation of the current policies and open a wider reflection whether all the so called ‘traditional’ European policies respect the principles at the base of the European construction.

Why this reflection is? That the idea of Europe has lost its appeal in most of the public opinion is a fact, but most of the challenges facing the member states are transnational and can find a satisfactory solution at European more than national level. The economic crisis, the security of EU citizens, the problem of the refugees and of the migrations, the energy security, the climate changes are all problems where the European added value is easy to explain and where Europe can give more effective solutions that at national level.

This could be the direction of the new challenge and vision for the Europe of tomorrow. To achieve these results a profound reform would be necessary, a reform which can be achieved only with strong leadership of the Commission, of the Member States of the European Parliament. This long term vision would probably be more important than the muddling around to find compromises over compromises, even to respond to some of the problems raised by the UK Government.

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  1. Excellent article – note that ECA does some useful analytical work on EU spending efficiency – but EC services should do their own too.
    Zero based budget exercise is a huge program indeed, often advocated in the past – but it relies on a hypothetical political will to reform current policies (ie CAP) .
    Friendly yours JGGiraud

    1. Thanks for your comments.
      Indeed ECA did an excellent work but if we want Europe be active on the new priorities it is necessary to free funds from the traditional policies, which is more difficult

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