On August 8th 2021, Alice Weidel, member of the German parliament and part of a right-winged populist political party, tweeted about Germany’s contributions to the European Union. She stated that the overall payments added up to almost 20 billion Euros, twice as much as France has paid. The claim turns out to be mostly true.
According to Alice Weidel, the German share in the EU budget has never been that high. Compared to the other members of the EU, Germany is the country which pays the biggest amount of money to support the union. Nevertheless, the statement should be questioned, because Alice Weidel leaves aside the advantages, that the EU provides the member states. The EU budget records all of the EU’s finances. Unlike a national budget, which purpose mainly is to finance social security systems, the EU-budget targets the financing of all strategies that are politically important to enforce the programs of the European Union.
The sum mostly consists of duties on imports from third countries, a share of the gross national income (GNI) and a small part of the value added tax (VAT) of each member state. The size of those shares is based on the wealth of every country. In addition to that, there are a few other minor ways of income like custom duties or fines payed by companies that oppose the EU rules.
How the EU budget is calculated
As stated before, the countries have to pay different amounts of money to finance the union, based on the country’s wealth. For many years now, the European Commission has been publishing an annual overview of the EU budget. Up to and including 2019 this overview has shown the net balance of contributions to and repayments from the EU budget for every member state, both in absolute Euro amounts and as a percentage of the respective gross national income (GNI). Since 2020, these figures are no longer published which has led to confusion and various figures being communicated in the mass media. This confusion arises from the fact that there are several ways to calculate those net balances and to find out how much every state has been contributing.
Alice Weidel chose the easiest way to figure out how high Germany’s and France’s payments have been. She set off the spendings against the revenues.
The Website of the European Commission reveals that Germany paid a total of 31.93€ billion and got a return of 12.56€ billion. So, the net sum of payments is 19.37€ billion. In comparison to that, France’s net total comes out to be 9.49€ billion. The fact that France only contributes half of what Germany does, confirms the statement of Alice Weidel as yet.
However, this simple comparison of contributions and repayments does not correspond to the method traditionally used by the European Commission to calculate net balances. The traditionally used method leaves out some figures in the calculations. The Commission justifies this on the grounds that although some of the spendings and revenues can be attributed to individual countries, they still benefit all Member States and are therefore not taken into account. The results of this method are called operating budgetary balances and could be slightly different to those that Alice Weidel stated. Since the European Commission did not publish their figures for 2020 they cannot be compared directly. Senior Economist Dr. Berthold Busch states in an article about this matter that looking at the different contributions of the member states, there are many reasons to use the European Commission’s method of calculation. He stresses that those figures, especially the percentage of the GNI, would be most representative.
A tweet without context
Overall, there are two reasons to not to categorize Weidel’s statement as true: As Berthold Busch stated, her method of calculation is not the most representative one. Although she used correct figures to mirror the payments, Weidel could have been more precise. Furthermore, the way she makes use of these figures could be misleading. According to her, 19.37€ billion have been transferred to Brussels. Strictly speaking, that part of the statement is incorrect, because the original payment was 31.93€ billion. Still, set off against the returns of 12.56€ billion, the total amount sums up to be almost 20€ billion. De facto, her statement is not totally incorrect, it just could have been more precise.
Second of all, Weidel uses the figures without giving more context, to justify the voices supporting the so-called “Dexit” getting louder. Reading between the lines, the tweet gives the impression that the EU is a waste of money and financed only by Germany. She does not take any account of the benefits each member state is taking from the alliance. Weidel only focuses on communicating the figures to justify the goal of her political party to support the “Dexit”. She leaves out that the EU vastly benefits the economics of its member states and that those benefits cannot only be measured by calculating direct budget transactions. There is a lot more to it.
While researching for this fact check, the EU-Commission stated: “All Member States benefit from being part of the single market, addressing the challenges of migration and fighting terrorism and climate change together […]. Countries will benefit considerably from the effects of investments in other Member States, as they can export more in those countries.”
Especially Germany profits from its central location in the single EU Market and easy entries to all countries. To stress how important the alliance is for Germany, Senior Economist Dr. Berthold Busch refers to the German Bundesbank, which published figures of the export and import of German goods. In 2020 goods in a total amount of 634.7€ billion have been exported. He uses those figures to show that there are a lot of benefits that are not considered in Weidel’s calculations.
All those statements show why Weidel’s tweet should not be categorized as completely true. By leaving out context and using figures and facts for her benefit, she tries to manipulate her followers into supporting her interests. As Alice Weidel excludes important information about the benefits of the alliance, she tricks her subscribers into thinking that the EU-membership is a waste of money and is not worth the while because there are no advantages. More detailed information on the benefits of the EU and how a withdrawal or rather a dissolution would affect the member states, can be found in the Blogpost “End of the European Union – who pays the price?”.
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