Thursday, September 25, 2003

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Ladies and gentlemen, your counterweight to the United States

It is the belief of prominent Europeans -- and some Americans -- that the European Union will emerge as the primary rival to the United States in world politics. Of course, this requres that a) most of the member states have a common set of preferences; b) EU institutions acquire greater material capabilities; and c) EU official competently administer those resources.

I've stated my skepticism on point (a) recently. This Financial Times piece makes me really wonder about point (c):

Romano Prodi, European Commission president, on Thursday said he saw no reason to ask any commissioner to quit over the Eurostat affair, amid new evidence that financial irregularities continued long after he took office in 2000.

"On the basis of the facts I have outlined, after careful thought and in full awareness of the issues, I consider there is no reason to ask any Commissioner to assume the political responsibility and resign," Mr Prodi said in a speech to European Parliament leaders, who were questioning him over the affair.

Three reports into the financial scandal released on Wednesday night reveal a saga of fake contracts, secret slush funds and huge waste which went unchecked in the Commission for many years.

They tell how millions of euros disappeared into the secret accounts, ostensibly to fund additional statistical research. Large sums simply vanished while some money was used to fund staff perks.

This is the continuation of an ongoing scandal from the late 1990's. It's not the only scandal involving EU officials, however. Two years ago, Europol -- Europe's top police agency -- was raided by Dutch police after it was discovered that some officers had engaged in money laundering. When the leading anti-money laundering unit in Europe is busted for laundering money, you do begin to wonder about the competency of European officialdom.

No government is corruption-free. But if Eurocrats can't handle a €98 billion budget, what happens when their state capacity starts to expand?

posted by Dan on 09.25.03 at 12:03 PM


Top-level Eurocrats essentially consider themselves to be members of a new aristocracy, and as such, they are entitled to the wealth and privilige that comes with being members of that class, and are certainly beyond the dictates of the plebian hordes they rule over. Embezzling public money is simply a good insurance policy in case the plebes accidentally vote in the "wrong" party and the bureaucrat loses his or her job.

posted by: Tom Ault on 09.25.03 at 12:03 PM [permalink]

I think a significant factor will be how closely Europeans identify themselves and others as part of a single group.

That is, will a Frenchman be even angrier that an Italian embezzeled his money, instead of someone within his own nation?

posted by: Joe Grossberg on 09.25.03 at 12:03 PM [permalink]

Holy crap, that was poor writing.

If someone needs clarification, I'll rephrase.

posted by: Joe Grossberg on 09.25.03 at 12:03 PM [permalink]

Ah yes, but Enron and WorldCom are examples of the corrupt US version of capitalism, in relation to the more sophisticated and nuanced approach espoused by the EU.

One thing is certain, of course: After the scandals, Enron is now out of business and WorldCom is a shell of its former self. ELF-Aquitane, Europol, and Eurostat are all still open and ready to take your Euros.

posted by: Steve in Houston on 09.25.03 at 12:03 PM [permalink]

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