Tag: europe

Statism Update from Brussels

America may have dodged the bullet of Obamacare thanks to voters in Massachusetts, but even if the left ultimately succeeds in expanding government’s control of health care, the United States will still have more freedom than Europe. It seems that the European Union’s governing entities, the European Commission and the semi-ceremonial European Parliament, combine the worst features of statism and collectivism from the entire continent. The Euro-crats make lots of noises about subsidiarity and other policies to leave decision making in the hands of national and local governments, but virtually every policy coming from Brussels is a new power grab for unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats. The latest example is possible EU-wide driving laws for the purposes of imposing absurdly low speed limits and to requiring foolish rules against more comfortable and safer large cars. Here’s what the UK-based Express wrote about the topic:

Brussels bureaucrats want to slap draconian European Union driving laws on Britain’s roads in a new “green” campaign on motorists, it emerged last night. Measures being considered include a barrage of new maximum speed limits in town and city areas. British motorists could also be forced to undertake exams in “environmentally-friendly” road skills as part of an EU-wide overhaul of driving tests. And many large cars and other so-called gas-guzzling vehicles face being banned from newly-declared “green zones” in urban centres. The latest threat of meddling from Brussels comes in an Action Plan on Urban Mobility drawn up by European Commission transport chiefs. …Mats Persson, of the Euro-sceptic think tank Open Europe, commented: “This illustrates that the EU simply can’t stop interfering in every aspect of people’s lives.”

Meanwhile, a different tentacle of the European octopus is proposing that the European Union be given the power to audit budget numbers from member nations. Given the fiscal fiasco in Greece, this seems like it might be a reasonable step - until one remembers that the EU’s auditors every year give a failing grade to the EU’s own budget practices. The EU Observer reports on the issue, but the phrase “blind leading the blind” somehow did not get included:

…the European Commission has indicated it will seek audit powers for the EU’s statistics office, Eurostat, in order to verify elements of national government accounts. …Speaking to journalists after a meeting of EU finance ministers on Tuesday (19 January), outgoing EU economy commissioner Joaquin Almunia said greater Eurostat auditing powers could have avoided the mistakes that led to the Greek revision. He said the commission will propose “a new regulation in order to obtain powers, which we’ve already requested, to give Eurostat the possibility of carrying out audits.”

Last but not least, that same EU Observer story has a tiny bit of good news, or at least a dark cloud with a silver lining. Some of Europe’s governments want to impose an EU-wide tax on banks. This certainly fits the theme of ever-growing levels of bureaucracy and interference from Brussels, but the good news is that there is still (even under the statist Lisbon Treaty) a national veto on tax matters. So even though some of the big nations in Europe want to demagogue against the financial sector, the EU’s taxation commissioner (and former communist apparatchik from Hungary) indicated with sadness that such a tax probably would not make it through the process:

While discussion on Greece took up considerable time, EU finance ministers did have an opportunity to discuss a Swedish proposal for an EU-wide bank levy to mitigate the effects of future financial crises. …British, Belgian and German ministers were amongst those who showed moderate support for the idea. However, outgoing EU taxation commissioner Laszlo Kovacs said it was unlikely to fly because of EU unanimity voting in the area of taxation.

Someone in Europe Is Talking Sense on Carbon Tariffs

The nominee for EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht has taken the brave step of opposing carbon tariffs, called for by many European politicians (including, notably, French President Nicolas Sarkozy).

In the first day of his confirmation hearings, Mr. de Gucht expressed concern that carbon tariffs were a possible first step in a “trade war” and implied that they were in any event inconsistent with current trade law. (I agree.) He also called for abolishing tariffs on goods beneficial to the environment as a trade-friendly way to reduce greenhouse gases, and expressed support for the Doha round of multilateral trade talks. (More here.) While the Trade Commissioner’s influence over actual trade policy in the EU is arguably limited, it is good to have someone in the post who is instinctively suspicious of green protectionism and friendly towards the WTO.

The European Parliament is due to vote on the European Commission nominees (en masse) on January 26.

Great Moments in Government Waste, the European Version

While American politicians are experts when it comes to squandering money, they may not be the world’s most profligate group of lawmakers. To be sure, American politicians sometimes give big piles of other people’s money to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but the politicians at the European Commission in Brussels engage in similar forms of corporate welfare with their Emissions Trading Scheme.

The overall burden of government is heavier in Europe, so that certainly suggests that there are greater opportunities to waste money, but what makes the European Commission special is that it is insulated from democratic accountability and there is no system of checks and balances. So even though the actual amount of money spent by Brussels is small compared to what is wasted by national governments in Europe, the outcomes are especially obscene. Here’s a story from the UK-based Daily Mail, reporting on a program (no joke) to fund activities such as basket weaving and siestas:

British taxpayers are helping to fund basket-weaving and slapstick acting workshops for young people across Europe. The projects, which include meetings about folk dancing and even a scheme to promote afternoon siestas, are part of an £800million EU programme to help people aged 13-30 ‘feel European’. …Another venture in Finland received thousands to support a coffee house which offered ‘everyone the chance to have a sleep for free’. It aimed to encourage afternoon naps to reduce stress. ‘Youth exchange participants’ also flocked to Macedonia last year for a meeting entitled Stories And Legends, receiving £18,000 to explore storytelling. …An EC spokesman said the projects were about exposing young people to other cultures and increasing their participation in  society. He added: ‘I don’t see anything wrong with basket-weaving or music-making if it encourages young people to meet other Europeans and learn a new skill from another part of Europe.’

Readers may be thinking this is no big deal. After all, American politicians fund pork projects all the time. But here’s the clincher. The UK’s Daily Telegraph reports that the European Commission is subsidizing a ski trip for…drum roll, please… the children of European politicians, and that the subsidies even go to households with income equivalent to about $175,000:

Taxpayers will heavily subsidise a skiing holiday in the Italian Alps for the children of MEPs and European Parliament officials in February. …The eight-day skiing trip for 80 children aged between eight and 17 is timed to begin over the weekend of St Valentine’s Day, providing some romantic time off from parenting for officials.  Costs, the holiday is priced at 920 euros (£822), are generously subsidised by the parliament’s budget. Households receive different levels of subsidy depending on their monthly income but even those on a income of over £108,000 get a discount. There is reduction of up to 52 per cent for officials earning £69,620 a year and an MEP, earning £86,000, is eligible for a subsidy of 45 per cent. …The children will enjoy full board in a three-star hotel in the beautiful village of Spiazzi. The trip includes “workshops” in a “multilingual environment” on the themes of “the mountain, its snow, its nature”. …The parliament’s spokesman declined to comment on the holiday.

Perhaps I’m not paying close enough attention, but I can’t think of anything the crowd in Washington has done that rivals this odious example of self-serving by lawmakers. Can anybody come up with an example that tops this?

Thursday Links

Don’t Copy Europe’s Mistakes

In this new video, Eline van den Broek of the Netherlands needs only about four minutes to explain why government-run healthcare in Europe is a mistake and why the problems in the U.S. healthcare system are the result of too much government, not too little.

The only thing I don’t like about this video is that I fear people may no longer want to watch the ones I narrate.

It Is Good to Be the King: Taxpayers Pay $413,000 for French President’s Unused Luxury Shower

Bastien François, a professor of political science at the Sorbonne, writes that “The French political system is incomprehensible to the rest of the world… In France we call it a republican monarchy. That phrase says it all.”

Indeed, according to the press, a £250,000 ($413,000) shower with air conditioning and radio surround sound that was “built to the exact specifications of the French President Nicolas Sarkozy” was paid for by the EU taxpayer during the French Presidency of the European Union in July 2008.

 It was “disposed of soon afterwards, unused, together with most of the equipment bought for the £16million ($26 million) conference.” The press also reported “other expenses included £1million ($1.65 million) spent on the opening dinner alone - more than £23,000 ($38,000) for each of the 43 heads of state.”

German Masochists

A handful of guilt-ridden wealthy Germans are asking to pay more tax according to a BBC report. They could just give their money to the state, of course, but they want to impose their self-loathing policies on all successful Germans. The amusing part of the story is that these dilettantes were puzzled that so few people showed up to their protest. Maybe next time they could do some real redistribution and announce that they will be tossing real banknotes in the air:

A group of rich Germans has launched a petition calling for the government to make wealthy people pay higher taxes. The group say they have more money than they need, and the extra revenue could fund economic and social programmes…

Simply donating money to deal with the problems is not enough, they want a change in the whole approach.

…The man behind the petition, Dieter Lehmkuhl, told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel that there were 2.2 million people in Germany with a fortune of more than 500,000 euros. If they all paid the tax for two years, Germany could raise 100bn euros to fund ecological programmes, education and social projects, said the retired doctor and heir to a brewery. Signatory Peter Vollmer told AFP news agency he was supporting the proposal because he had inherited “a lot of money I do not need”. He said the tax would be “a viable and socially acceptable way out of the flagrant budget crisis”. The group held a demonstration in Berlin on Wednesday to draw attention to their plans, throwing fake banknotes into the air. Mr Vollmer said it was “really strange that so few people came”.

But not all tormented rich people live in Germany. A few months ago, I had a chance to debate an American version of this strange subspecies.