Myth: If they want EU funds, Eastern European members must tow the line on Brussels' migration dictates

In today’s information-saturated world, we encounter a number of arguments and story lines that become popular and oft-repeated despite having almost no basis in fact. They sound compelling and have many people who would very much like to believe them, but they’re not true. The longer they linger, however, the more they get in the way. These myths deserve to be busted.

Here’s one we encounter all the time: “The eastern European member states of the EU should be required to take migrants from western member state because the western members pay financial aid to them in the form of structural funds.”

Sounds straight-forward, but in fact, structural funds don’t work that way.

The structural and cohesion policies of the European Union are the commonly accepted policies that were accepted long before the 12 eastern member states joined the EU in 2004 and 2007. This development fund was first established in the 1970s for the southern member states to build cohesion – as the name suggests – between the member states in order to overcome differences in development, mostly infrastructural development.

It is not a form of humanitarian aid or charity to the less fortunate member states. It is an important tool to overcome differences in economic development because the free movement of capital, labor and goods in a common market should be supported by infrastructural and other development across the market.

But here’s the thing – and this is where the proponents of the myth get it so wrong – it’s part of a deal.

In return for the cohesion funds paid partly by the “net contributors,” the less developed member states open up their markets to the companies of the more developed member states. It’s a fundamental part of the equation.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what German EU Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources Günther Oettinger said on the issue in an interview in Handelsblatt:

“Q:Why not save even more – for example, the billions in EU structural funds that go to Poland and Hungary, since those two countries refuse to take in refugees?

A: Budgetary policy shouldn’t be used to impose political penalties. The structural funds are for making weak regions more competitive. And a large part of every euro the EU gives Poland comes back to Germany. The Poles use the money to place orders with the German construction industry, to buy German machines and German trucks. So net contributors such as Germany should be interested in the structural funds. From an economic perspective, Germany isn’t a net contributor but a net recipient.”

Did you get that? “From an economic perspective, Germany isn’t a net contributor but a net recipient.”

Besides opening up their markets, eastern member states contribute to the EU’s budget directly as well, so making it look like a one-way transfer for political reasons, is simply false.

The structural and cohesion policies were established long before the 12 new member states joined the EU, but the EU does not have an agreed upon population relocation scheme according to which people could be settled down on the territory of a different member state. That’s strike two for the argument.

Finally, proponents of this myth suggest that it’s those poor eastern Europeans that are taking the greatest share of the cohesion funds. Italy’s former Prime Minister Renzi was one of those, often demanding that cohesion funds be cut for a failure to show solidarity. At one point, he said he would veto the next budgetary framework if it ‘fails’ to impose sanctions on countries like Hungary for not taking in migrants.

Southern member states, however, have received far more in structural and cohesion funds from the central budget than eastern member states. Southern states, like Italy, struggle to secure their borders and manage properly the migration pressure according the Schengen and Dublin rules that they signed. It seems a strange approach for them to be demanding greater solidarity and attempting to politicize the structural funds.

If the European Union wants to adopt a new policy, it requires the support of all the member states. Insisting on false arguments and half-truths doesn’t help.

The myth that “Eastern member states want solidarity on one hand, but refuse it on the other” is now officially debunked. Time to move on.