The FT series this week looking at the EU’s structural funds is – with some caveats due to choice of words – decent investigative journalism. It takes a systematic approach to looking at where the EU’s structural funds go, and where the problems lie. For someone coming to this matter afresh it’s a decent account of the problems.
But for those of us that have been following the EU for years there’s little that’s groundbreaking here. The only new, substantive things I’ve found out are about the slow levels of spending so far for 2007-13 (although slow spending has beset all kinds of EU programmes for years), and the fact that local governments in Poland are running up debts in order to be able to release match funds from EU level.
Beyond that any of the problems and allegations – a focus on paperwork rather than project impact, cumbersome bureaucracy, fraud, lack of staffing resources, OLAF being dysfunctional, the mess being more at regional or national level than EU level – are things that have been known for years and years, and are generally well documented already.
So why then are the folks that inhabit the Brussels bubble getting so flustered? So much in fact that Commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde-Hanssen spent time rebutting the allegations, Commissioners Hahn and Andor felt obliged to publish a statement (see all of this on the FT blog), and #eufunds on Twitter is a stream of RTs from every institution-related Twitter account defending structural funds.
All of this seems to demonstrate two things – the importance of the FT in Brussels circles, and the fact that the allegations hurt. The FT is widely read in Brussels, but unlike European Voice it doesn’t just slavishly service the the institutions; it brings some semblance of connection to the real world. While it remains to be seen how many politicians outside the Brussels bubble pay attention to this week’s reports, it seems that the FT has a unique ability to at least deflate, if not pop, the Brussels bubble.
Today’s FT report focuses on re-localisation of companies from Western (higher labour cost) countries to Eastern European (lower wage) countries – and collecting EU Structural Funds to help them do this. Which, of course, the companies mentioned deny.
As the article points out, many of these companies are already profitable and some are noted world leaders. Some are not even European in origin.
There were few comments from the East EU countries named – but it can be assumed that they would welcome the opportunities to create new jobs.
Not sure how the EU Commission can deny the facts and figures the FT and Bureau of Investigative Journalism have collected and collated.
I found the database useful if only to see how some countries are more advanced in their creative use of the funds (eg France) than others. Superficially, France’s long list looks to be genuinely concerned with efforts to deal with ‘structural’ problems (like youth unemployment – a long-standing and real issue in France).
And clearly the French government considers it worth while matching the EU funds. Which will reflect in my tax bills, no doubt 😉
I think the most important result of the FT research is the comprehensive searchable database. This will allow, in the future, to do quick research on companies, regions, cities etc and to see how much and what kind of EU money they have received.
All the journalistic work around this is necessary and indeed not too new for the bubble – but if journalists doing cross-country or even local research now have a tool to do a quick research this might help to find yet unknown stories.