How big is the EU budget?

At some €137 billion (2017 figure), the EU budget is in fact smaller than the budgets of Austria or Belgium.

This is a tiny fraction (2%) of the combined national budgets of all 28 EU countries (€7,022 billion)

Some comparisons

  • National governments in the EU spend more than 50 times what the EU does through its budget
  • EU spending represents less than 1% of the total value of the EU economy (Gross National Income of all EU Member States)
  • By contrast, an average national budget in the EU is 46% of the value of its economy.

And a contrast

Unlike national budgets, which are mainly used to provide public services and fund social security systems, the EU budget is primarily used for investment.

How much do we pay into it?

The average EU citizen pays €187 per year towards the EU budget (2017 figures) – less than the price of an average cup of coffee per day.

How much is spent on administration?

The EU's administrative staff is relatively small:

  • there are around 60,000 EU civil servants and other staff, who serve some 500 million Europeans (and countless others around the world).
  • by comparison, the city of Vienna employs 65,000 people, and the French Finance Ministry has around140,000 staff.

The EU spends less than 7% of its annual budget on administration. This includes staff salaries and pensions, schools for children of staff members, buildings, etc.

This type of spending is unavoidable if the EU institutions are to function effectively.

How much is spent on translation, and why?

Administration also includes language services – mainly interpreting and translation – that are essential for guaranteeing the EU's cultural and linguistic diversity. These services ensure, among other things that:

  • people living in the EU have access to EU laws and key political documents in an official language of their country;
  • European citizens are able to write to the Commission and receive a reply in their own language;
  • EU summits and meetings of the EU Council can be interpreted into and out of all official EU languages;
  • every MEP has the right to use their own language when speaking in the European Parliament.

Translation and interpreting in all EU institutions account for less than 1% of the EU's annual budget – equivalent to around €2 per person per year.

Do EU staff members pay taxes or pension contributions?

Taxes

Yes – they pay taxes of between 8% and 45% on their salaries.

They also pay a special levy of 6-7%, which goes back into the EU budget and is effectively returned to EU governments in the form of funding for projects.

EU Commissioners pay almost 45% of their salary on taxes.

Pensions

EU staff members pay some of the highest pension contributions in the EU compared to civil servants in some Member States (10.0% of gross basic salary).

Civil servants in Germany, Bulgaria, Estonia and Sweden, for example, do not pay any pension contributions at all.

Have auditors signed off the accounts?

The European Court of Auditors has given a clean bill of health to the EU accounts every year since 2007.

This means every euro the EU spent in the last 11 years was recorded in the books and accounted for.

What is the error rate?

When it comes to legality and regularity of payments made to recipients of EU funds, the European Court of Auditors considers a 2% error rate as the level below which errors are not regarded as having a significant effect (the "material level of error").

The EU Commission – which manages the bulk of EU spending – has managed to bring the error rate down in recent years, achieving 2.4% in 2017 (3.1% in 2016, 3.8% in 2015 and 4.4% in 2014). This means more than €97 of every €100 spent by the EU was free from error.

This is not yet good enough to get the Court of Auditors’ full approval. But this just shows what exceptionally high standards of management and control are applied to taxpayers’ money at the EU level.

What is done to ensure money is not wasted?

Since almost 75% of EU spending is managed jointly by both the EU Commission and EU governments, those governments share the responsibility for minimising errors. The Commission is working closely with them to ensure money is spent effectively and efficiently.

For its part, if the Commission detects that EU money has been spent incorrectly, it takes action. In 2017, for example, on funds disbursed to recipients across the EU and beyond €2.8 billion in funding was either recovered by the Commission or redirected to other projects.

Is there any fraud?

Errors in EU spending are usually administrative mistakes where spending rules have not been followed correctly, for example when documents are missing. This is not fraud, and these errors usually do not undermine the end result of a project.

The Commission and the European Court of Auditors report all suspicions of fraud with EU money to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). These are only very few cases per year, out of several hundred the European Court of Auditors looks at annually.

Is the budget decided democratically?

Yes – as follows:

  1. The European Commission first proposes a draft annual budget.
  2. The draft budget must be approved by national governments in the Council of the EU and by the directly elected European Parliament.
  3. Both the Council and Parliament can amend the draft.
  4. The Council and Parliament approve the final version.

Does it fund only useful projects?

The Commission is serious about ensuring that the EU budget is focused on priorities and well spent.

Projects are selected, depending on the case, either directly by the Commission or by national and regional authorities in EU countries, third countries, other international organisations etc… to meet local needs, in line with strategies and priorities they have agreed in advance with the Commission.

In the past, the focus has often been on simply using the funds and playing by the rules. Now the focus is put more and more on performance. Today, demand for EU funding is rising and in many Member States the EU budget is a key source of investments. The pressure is greater than ever to make sure EU money is spent well. A euro spent through the European budget must be worth more to our citizens than a euro spent at national level. The EU budget has to demonstrate added value.

Is the Commission planning to introduce direct taxes?

No – the Commission has never proposed this. National governments and local authorities are and will continue to be in charge of setting and collecting taxes.

It is true that the EU is currently looking at some possible new ways of financing the EU budget, some of which could include, for example, revenue from companies’ taxable profits.

But none of these could be approved without unanimous agreement by all EU governments and parliaments.

How much is spent on farming?

In 2017, the share of EU spending on farming was 41%. In 1985, 70% was spent on farming.

Over the past decade, 13 countries — most of them with large farming sectors — have joined the EU. However, the Common agricultural policy budget has not risen to cover these extra costs. In fact, spending continues to fall. For 2021-2027, the Commission proposed less than 30% of the EU budget on agriculture.

Farming’s relatively large share of the EU budget is entirely justified; it is the only policy funded almost entirely from the common budget. This means that EU spending replaces national expenditure to a large extent.

Does EU funding only help poorer EU countries?

This is a misconception. EU funding for regional and social development is an important source for key investment projects.

In some EU countries that have otherwise limited means, European funding finances up to 80% of public investment.

However, EU regional spending does not just help poorer regions. It invests in every EU country, boosting the economy of the EU as a whole.

It is estimated that the return on investment by 2023 will be €2.74 for every €1 invested between 2007 and 2013 — that’s a 274% return.

For 2014-20, the EU allocated over €480 billion to regional spending. This should result in:

  • help for over 1 million companies
  • better healthcare for 42 million Europeans
  • flood and fire prevention for 25 million people
  • nearly 17 million people connected to sewage plants
  • broadband access for 15 million additional households
  • over 420,000 new jobs
  • training for 5 million Europeans
  • new, modern schools and childcare for 6.6 million children.

How is the budget used to tackle the migration challenge?

In response to the refugee crisis and increased challenges of migration, EU funding has more than doubled to over €22 billion from the original allocation of €9.6 billion for 2015-18.

Thanks to this money, the EU is able to develop immediate and longer-term measures to process and accommodate migrants and invest in regions outside the EU to reduce migration flows.

Does the budget help young people find work?

Yes – through the Youth Employment Initiative, which has a budget of €8.8 billion for 2014-20.

It helps young people who are unemployed and not in education or training, ensuring that in parts of Europe where the challenges are most acute, young people receive the targeted support they need.

Typically, it funds apprenticeships/traineeships/job placements and further education.

Youth Employment Initiative

Why do some EU countries pay more than they receive?

How much each country pays depends on the size of its economy. In 2017, 11 of the 28 EU countries – the richest – paid more into the EU budget than they received back in EU funding.

However, in return for their larger contribution, these countries also enjoy the many benefits that this money provides for all EU countries – peace and stability both within and around the EU, security, better infrastructure and the freedom to live, work, study and travel anywhere in the bloc.

And money spent in one EU country can also benefit another country. For example, funding to protect the EU's external borders goes only to countries that border non-member countries (e.g. Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Greece). But this clearly benefits other countries too.

Can you receive money from the budget?

All European citizens and many in other parts of the world benefit directly or indirectly from the EU budget.

It helps millions of students, thousands of researchers and many cities, regions and non-profit organisations. Some examples:

  • small and medium businesses benefit from grants, loans and in some cases guarantees, as well as better access to finance and markets under the COSME programme.

    COSME programme.

In 2017, rules to access EU funds have been simplified and modernised.

To search and apply for funding opportunities, go to our Funding and tender opportunities portal.

Financial regulation

Funding, tenders

More indirectly, the budget contributes to:

  • safer, healthier food
  • better infrastructure (new and better roads, railways and airports)
  • a cleaner environment
  • tighter security at EU external borders
  • increased student mobility
  • educational support and guidance
  • social protection and cultural exchanges
  • humanitarian aid worldwide.

Is it easy to access EU funds?

The EU is working hard to simplify the rules on funding, and has recently approved measures that will ensure:

  • less red tape for beneficiaries/simpler rules
  • more transparency
  • better controls and accountability (to ensure public money is used more efficiently).

Should there be an EU budget?

The EU budget is based on the idea that in some areas a euro spent by the EU is worth more for the common European good than a euro spent nationally.

  • EU countries can achieve much more together than on their own. Big projects such as Galileo (the EU satnav system) could not be financed by one country alone.
  • Since the global economic and financial crisis, the EU has struggled with low levels of investment. In 2014, the EU launched the Investment Plan for Europe, which aimed to get Europe investing again by mobilising private and public investment. The investment plan will run until 2020 and aims to mobilise €500 billion. This boost for jobs, growth and investment would not be possible without the EU budget.
  • Many current problems are global in nature – e.g. migration, humanitarian crises, terrorism, security threats. Such problems cannot be tackled effectively by single countries acting alone.

Galileo

Investment Plan for Europe