This year's Europe Day took place in a week when the people of France, Greece and Schleswig Holstein expressed their dissatisfaction with European austerity plans at the ballot box - writes MEP
I support the idea of the European Union as a strong trading bloc which creates the conditions for growth and jobs. In spite of growing Euroscepticism across the continent, this stance is something that most Europeans - even Britons - could agree with. However the EU is reviled, not only for its unnecessary red tape and unswerving devotion to rigid rules and bureaucracy - but also because it is turning into a manipulative, propagandist super-state.
The way in which the EU forces its national identity on unwilling and unwitting citizens is particularly controversial. The European anthem and flag are especially contentious in the United Kingdom as were the plans to force European athletes to wear the EU flag on their uniforms at international sporting events - such as the upcoming London Olympics.
Alongside the flag, the anthem and the motto - another product of EU national identity is Europe Day, which happens on May 9 every year. This year's Europe Day took place in a week when the people of France, Greece and Schleswig Holstein expressed their dissatisfaction with European austerity plans at the ballot box. Against this background, how much did the EU spend on celebrating Europe Day? I tabled two parliamentary questions, one to the European Commission and a second to the European External Action Service asking the institutions how much they spent on Europe Day inside and and outside the EU.
The two answers received were not particularly informative. It seems that the EEAS is entirely unaware of how much money it spends on Europe Day. We were sent details of the overall spending on the "representation allowance" for EU diplomats posted abroad. The wining-and-dining budget for 2012 was just over €3m. According to the EEAS, guidelines recommend that no more than 30 per cent of the annual budget should be used to celebrate Europe Day, making a total of around €920,000.
The commission was more detailed in its response, but also could not provide a total figure as "the wide range of activities makes it difficult to regroup all costs under a single budget line". However, it did provide a figure of €1.25m - which the commission's representations spent on 9th May. While the commission has laudably reduced official expenditure on Europe Day, to the taxpayer, by 25 per cent - the costs of holding events to mark a day which most Europeans neither recognise nor appreciate are unjustified. Moreover, the commission admits that it uses a number of sources of funding for Europe Day yet is unable or unwilling to provide detailed figures. The costs, therefore, could be even steeper.
In the UK we recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Queen's accession to the throne. The Diamond Jubilee celebrations were marked with a number of showpiece events to thank the monarch for her decades of service. The Thames Pageant was the highlight of the jubilee with 1,000 boats travelling down London's main river alongside a barge carrying members of the Royal Family. Of course, costs for an event such as this size are not inconsiderable. However, not one penny of the £10m spent on the Thames Pageant was bourne by the taxpayer. It was funded entirely by private donations.
So why does the EU spend at least €2m a year on Europe Day? Because it wishes to promote a European identity. And the EU has to fund Europe Day itself because it could never raise the kind of donations that the Thames Pageant did. National identity is about a sense of belonging. If the EU wants people to feel that they are part of the union, it should not do so by creating an artificial identity for itself.
The best way to encourage a sense of belonging is to provide citizens with what they need most: a strong economy. It can foster closer ties with the population by ensuring that citizens get value for money from Europe and by making the union more transparent and accountable. I, for one, would be a more contented citizen if next year, on May 9, the EU spent not a single euro on Europe Day. What better way to celebrate?Marina Yannakoudakis is Conservative Party MEP for London, in the United Kingdom. The parliamentary questions and answers can be seen here