Creative disruption

Why can’t I get supported by the EU?

Why can’t I get EU money for my little enterprise?

The EU should be able to answer this question.

For most of the EU population, the avalanche of development and cohesion money is a distant, abstract thing. Indeed, when I hear about yet another million-digit sum spent by the EU, I only think of the corruption it feeds. It never occurred to me that I could ever see a cent from it.

And I am not alone. And I am not wrong.

By agreeing in 2014 that only Orbán (‘s totally independent little organisation) gets to spend cohesion funds in Hungary, the EU has basically agreed to finance his bid to become the country’s irremovable autocrat. It happened before the last 7-year plan budget was agreed to – and it should be reconsidered now that another seven years of our lives are at stake.

Even if we disregard that the sole function of EU cohesion funds today is rewarding political loyalism, there is the sad fact that its spending is not transparent to begin with.

  • Where is its website? (How many does it have?) Why don’t everyone know it if so much is decided there?
  • Can I apply? Without political loyalism?
  • What do these application questions even mean? (Apart from covering the ass of the bureaucrat who tries to make funding decisions while not taking responsibility for them.)
  • Where do I get and pay for the mountain of paperwork they request? Is it really a skill that will help me in business?
  • Why are there specialists to write applications on behalf of normal citizens and why can they command such fees?
  • Why do even legit businesses refrain from sinking resources into a tender application when a crony is also applying? Why does everyone know for whom a tender is written?
  • Is it my fault that I was born decades into the process and I can’t get up and running on its jargon, its MO and preferences?
  • Is there an EU-English dictionary to understand cohesion fund jargon for those who only come of age in 2020? 

Will it always remain the playground of bureaucrats and politicians who dedicated their lives to suckle resources out of it? Or can we somehow make it everyone’s business?

Let’s face it, those paperwork-experts fine-tuned to file documents that supposedly translate real-life business ideas to bureaucratese are not more meritful than any random citizen who would actually try her hands at a business.

Furthermore, EU cohesion funds have an unfortunate inclination to finance big, white elephant projects. We have a billion stadiums that check the boxes of “sport” and “health” – even though they do neither. But that’s the playground of the politically favored ones – and you can’t become one of them, even if you support them. It is an invitation-only, boys’ club.

Yes, Brussels doesn’t know how that money it is best spent.

But neither does the prime minister, his cronies, his family members, and their fronts and family.

The one-hundredth wellness hotel won’t increase village tourism hundredfold – in the same way 11 lookout towers (at 80 thousand a pop) don’t make the village of Tyukod a tourism hotspot. (But the infestation of wellness hotels funded by public money will crowd out real hotels that try to compete.) The millionth village swimming pool will not make anyone healthier – but it will bankrupt the villages who will have to fill and heat its pools and pay the caretaker. They most certainly won’t attract any tourists. (Why would a random pool attract tourists???)

Surely, spending some of the money on a lottery would not decrease its efficiency. It simply can not be decreased any further. What can be done, however, is loosening the grip of aspiring autocrats by circumventing them.

So why not introducing a micro-funding lottery?

It would cost a fraction of cohesion funds – but it would have so much more impact. In publicity AND fundamentally.

Let bureaucrats (not local ones!) establish whether there is any reason a particular idea should be excluded from funding (criminal record, history of fraud, being an oligarch). (That would eliminate bureaucratic resistance, by keeping them important.)

Then just put the remaining ideas in a hat and let a pretty, young model draw the winners once a week. I guarantee that it will glue half of Europeans to the screens.

You know what? You can have Ursula von der Leyen draw the names. She would become known and popular, all at once.

And even our little projects would make more sense than making a few poor gypsy kids jump up and down for a 2-minute video and calling it a public health initiative for 3000 euros a day. Indeed, the efficiency of funding can only get better than it is today.

Just take academia.

Independent-minded academics would benefit tremendously as their project might accidentally get funded. At the present a researcher who doesn’t think like his elders and doesn’t research the topic his elders find important has near zero chance to get his research tolerated, let alone funded. Paradigm-challenging findings never come along this way, no matter how much money is plundered on “multidisciplinary research” – that really just means to give to the old guys we used to give to.

Or take cities.

Liberal-minded cities are getting increasingly at odds with nationalistic governments wishing to return to feudalistic systems of territorial and sectoral fiefdoms handed out by the king as rewards of loyalty. (It is, indeed, difficult to see why no one is protesting that cities and countries should be glued together, one subsidizing the other.) These cities are now starved and strangled by their governments as a punishment for disagreeing – their tax revenues taken away, their tasks multiplying by law. It is no surprise that they are clamoring for a chance to get their projects directly funded from Brussels.

A lottery makes even more sense from the viewpoint of subsidiarity – and even as helicopter money. 

If we accept the principle of subsidiarity (the unquestioned belief that locals know best), who would dare to argue that municipalities are even more local than national governments? Not to mention individuals.

They should be able to submit their projects for a direct funding lottery – at least some opposition-led cities would get a chance to get things done, lessening the grip of emerging autocracies.

It would also serve as helicopter money if we insist that the economy can be boosted that way. If we let governments decide, only their cronies will get a boost.

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