How does the European Union spend its money?

The European Union is an odd spender: unlike national states, it doesn't have to pay for most normal functions of government - like social security, defense or pensions. Its €925bn budget for the 2007-2013 period is therefore mostly dedicated to structural investments, subsidies and research.

Many groups have tried to track how the various funds are spent across projects and beneficiaries. The following page aims to provide an overview for those unfamiliar with the EU's funds, policies and often strange language.

Information about the stability mechanisms EFSF and ESM has been collected on the site of the Netherlands Court of Audit. If you would like to contribute disaggregared data or further knowledge, please get in touch.

The EU's financial planning happens on two levels: through a seven year plan (called the Multiannual Financial Framework) and through a budget, which is decided each year.

Overview of EU funds (click to enlarge)


Farm and Fish Subsidies ~€420bn

The system of agricultural subsidies (often called the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP) are by far the largest section of the spending. EU Transparency operates FarmSubsidy.org and FishSubsidy.org with great background information on these funds.

Thanks to FarmSubsidies' efforts, data on the beneficiaties of agricultural subsidies was available until 2010. After a ruling by the European Court of Justice, the release of this information has virtually stopped.

Regional development ~€350bn

Three major funds are used to invest in various regions in Europe: the Regional Development Fund, Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund. Project funding is disbursed by each region and reported individually. In 2010, the Financial Times and the Bureau of Investigative Journalists collected the data.

Research and Foreign Aid ~€90bn

The EU also operates a large research programme (FP7), a nuclear research effort (EURATOM) and overseas development assistance programmes, some of which is managed independently of the budget (EDF). Additionally, the budget includes administrative costs for EU institutions.

Other funds and related data sources

Further EU spending data sources are available in this overview spreadsheet and on datahub.io. This includes some of the more exotic funds and finance-related data sources, such as:

Errors, additions?

This site is intended as a short briefing for journalists and citizens interested in the EU. It is necessarily incomplete, but we hope to continuously extend it. If you have questions, comments or suggestions, please message our mailing list.

Thanks

Many items listed on this page were contributed by experienced journalists. Special thanks to Caelainn Barr and Brigitte Alfter.