European Council on Foreign Relations

London view: let the sunshine in

www.freevectorfinder.comHere in ECFR’s Westminster office our Policy Coordination Team meeting had to compete with the sound of helicopters hovering just outside the window. They were news helicopters, and the reason why they were buzzing the skies above our office was not because of any dramatic decision the PCT was making, but rather because the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, was delivering his budget to the House of Commons.

Any budget during these tough times is an opportunity for discussion, and this was no exception. But amongst all the chatter about changing the highest rate of income tax and keeping the focus on dealing with Britain’s national debt, there was one little amendment that caught my eye.

As The Economist’s Bagehot blog explains in this post, the government is going to introduce a personal tax statement to explain exactly where each taxpayer’s money is being spent. This piece from the BBC has more details, including a breakdown of what happens to your money for those earning £15,000, £25,000 and £50,000 a year – this chart shows how it would look. (For reference, the £25,000 earner (a fairly average figure) currently contributes £5,702 in tax, of which £363 is in interest payments on the national debt.)

Pro-Europeans might be interested to see that this breakdown includes a figure for how much gets sent over to Brussels. The £25,000 earner has a mere £28.37 spent by the EU and the £50,000 earner sees £70.56 of his or her hard-earned cash disappear. I imagine this is a lot less than many imagine – and publishing these figures might have a significant impact on the debate about Britain’s membership of the European Union. (Although these absolute figures are a subject of constant debate)

The other thought is that this exercise could be expanded. What proportion of that £28.37 goes towards the CAP, I wonder, and what amount towards the famous perks enjoyed by Eurocrats? How much towards infrastructure projects in the poorer corners of Europe and how much towards those sessions of Parliament that are held in Strasbourg? A personal EU tax statement might help many Europeans understand that they get rather a lot out of the money they spend on the EU, but it might also illuminate areas where some of that money is not being spent wisely. Sunlight, after all, is the best disinfectant.



Chris Tregenna 23rd March 2012 at 11:03am

A good idea, Nicholas! 

But, as a management consultant who has spent years poring over the lies, deceptions, omissions and half-truths in corporate Annual Reports, I have doubts as to the practicality. 

Those eurocrats will surely be able to disguise or rename their infamous perks - and the cost of the entire Brussels-Strasburg gravy train - as something else that sounds vaguely useful. 

What is needed is the equivalent of the UK’s Audit Commission - but with teeth - to ensure the accounting is done honestly and fairly.  Finding someone like that in Brussels will be like Diogenes’ search for an honest man 2500 years ago.

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