Five Myths About the European Union
Populist parties have upended politics in Europe, and that didn’t begin with the U.K. Independence Party, which helped engineer the Brexit. Across the continent, iconoclastic pols have been outperforming traditional ones in elections and leading a rebellion against the establishment for a few years. Their parties come in different shapes, ideologies and languages, but one thing unites them: They hate the European Union, the organization born from the rubble of the Second World War. The E.U. has always been a complex body run by elites, making it fertile ground for myths, some of which remain woefully popular.
MYTH NO. 1
It’s a dictatorship of technocrats and a bloated bureaucracy.
Complaints about red tape, largesse and the dictatorship of unelected technocrats have littered the Euroskeptic press for decades. One popular site decries the E.U.’s “lack of democracy” and its “corruption.” According to the Telegraph, some of its workers have “offices bigger than the average British home.” More soberly, the paper complained in 2013 that the civil service was costing slightly more each year because of pension obligations, even as overall E.U. spending fell by 6 percent. The Guardian that year explained how workers were insulated from austerity cuts in the member states. “While budgets, public spending, and civil service staffing levels are being slashed from Portugal to Poland, Greece to Great Britain, to be one of the 56,000 EU eurocrats is to escape most of the pain felt in almost every country.” The figures show a different picture: The various E.U. institutions employ around 55,000 civil servants, a few thousand more than those working for the city of Paris. They carry out the tasks the E.U.’s member states have assigned to them, including negotiating international trade deals, managing the single market and coordinating matters of joint responsibility, such as dealing with immigration flows. By way of comparison, the U.S. government employs 2.6 million civilian civil servants. Given that the European Union represents nearly 200 million more people than Washington does, and that it contributes nearly a quarter of global GDP, the citizen-to-civil-servant ratio of 10,000 to 1 really isn’t that bad.