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?