EU: hits and myths

Europe is increasingly in the eye of the storm as internal and external crises tot up: from the future of Greece in the eurozone and the Ukrainian conflict to the policies tabled to oppose the foreign fighter phenomenon. This fact-checking review highlights some of the main issues.

The European Commission has ‘gifted’ the Ukraine €1.8 billion
FALSE -  In an irate tweet, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Italian Northern League Party, accused the EU of wanting to hand over almost €2 billion to Ukraine “instead of helping European citizens in need”. He is actually referring to a loan that the EU took out at a favourable interest rate, thanks to its good credit rating, and subsequently transferred to Ukraine at the same interest rate. It cannot therefore be considered a 'gift' as it does not come out of the European budget, nor does it divert resources from any EU citizens in need.

The vast majority of refugees in the EU have settled in four member states

TRUE - Speaking on the arrival of thousands of refugees following the crises in North Africa and the Middle East, the European Parliament President Martin Schulz reminded everyone that, “right now, 50% of all refugees are going to three or four member states”. Actually, he was being cautious: France, Germany, the UK and Sweden together host almost 70% of refugees now living in the EU.  

The Greek recession was worse than America’s Great Depression

FALSE - The Greek crisis is so severe that no superlatives are needed. Nevertheless, some do venture risky comparisons. European Parliamentarian Dimitrios Papadimoulis (Syriza Party) said that the recently overcome recession had a worse impact than WWII. This comparison is fortunately untrue. But Papadimoulis is not alone overcooking his hyperbole. Even Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz said, “The decline in the Greek economy since the start of the crisis is in many ways worse than that which confronted America during the Great Depression”. In fact, the GDP dropped 26.3% in the US from 1929 to 1933 compared to the 23.7% decline posted by Greece from 2007 to 2013. In this sense at least, the two major recessions are absolutely comparable.  

Many jobs were cut in the Greek public sector

TRUE - During his first European tour, the new Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, recalled that with regard to employment over the last five years, “there has been a massive reduction in the public sector” in Greece. Personnel cuts are one of the salient points of negotiations between Greece and its creditors. In fact, according to an International Monetary Fund report released last June, the cuts have been severe: 161,000 fewer employees since the Troika landed in Greece in 2010, amounting to a 19% cutback. Such drastic downsizing in such a short time has not been witnessed in any other OECD country for the last 20 years at least. 

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