Belfast Telegraph

Is the EU ripping us off Northern Ireland?

Report: Ulster gets just £1 back for every £1.58 paid in

By Tom Moseley

Northern Ireland is being short-changed by European grants aimed at the poorest regions, a new study has claimed.

The Open Europe think tank said that the province’s taxpayers were paying £1.58 for every £1 of EU regional development funds reinvested here.

Today a committee of MPs backs an overhaul of the way the funds are paid that could net Ulster a £234m windfall.

The Communities and Local Government (CLG) committee calls for the “repatriation” of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), which would give Westminster and Stormont control over how it is spent.

The ERDF is the EU’s main tool to reduce economic inequalities between the different regions. It has been worth £201bn in the past five years.

Currently, the UK’s contributions are sent to Brussels and then redistributed according to EU priorities, with millions ending up back with Europe’s wealthiest nations.

Clive Betts, the chairman of the CLG committee, said: “Members from all political parties on this committee agree this repatriation of funding for regional development would permit the EU to focus on the needs of the poor

est member states, and allow the UK to regain control over the precise application of regional policy.”

However, the change would require the consent of all other member states as well as the European Commission, the MPs said.

The ERDF is used for small projects to support small businesses as well as major regeneration schemes, and in Northern Ireland is managed by Invest NI.

According to Open Europe, the total contribution from Northern Ireland’s taxpayers between 2007 and 2013 is £826m — yet just £523m was allocated back to be spent here, making Ulster a “net contributor” to the scheme.

For every pound Northern Ireland received in structural funds, it paid £1.58 into the Brussels pot.

If regional spending was devolved back to the UK, it would save around £4bn over seven years, of which Northern Ireland would net £234m, Open Europe told the committee of MPs.

Pawel Swidlicki, of Open Europe, said that he was “encouraged” that the MPs had backed repatriation.

He said: “Northern Ireland would be a significant winner if this reform was implemented as it is currently a significant net contributor to the funds despite being less wealthy than the UK average, whereas it could secure both additional funding and the scope to tailor it to better suit its particular needs.”

Belfast Telegraph


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