I am in Bulgaria for a month now following the debate on the EU budget from here. Brexit leaves a big gap and everyone is arguing how EU money should be spent.
Wealthy countries want to pay less to develop the poorer countries. Poorer countries like Bulgaria argue they need more money.
Sure, the Balkan countries receive more in finance than they pay. For example Bulgaria pays 487 million into the EU budget and receives 2,168 billion from the EU.
But what is not discussed in the media is that this money finances infrastructure helping the Bulgarian economy grow. With better roads companies like the Schwarz group can expand their supermarket chains.
I am in Blagoevgrad. The two big supermarkets here are LIdl and Kaufland. Both of them are owned by the Schwarz group. When I go shopping I find Dutch cheery tomatoes, German sausages and French cheese in addition to local Bulgarian products. In 2019 the group had a turnover of 104,3 billion Euros. Most of of that was generated outside Germany in EU countries: 67,33 billion Euros.
Lidl and Kaufland could not generate this kind of turnover without a skilled workforce and functioning infrastructure in Bulgaria.
Anti-EU critics will love this: the bad bad Germans are at it again, dominating the EU economy. But to be fair, the Schwarz group reinvests ca. 7,5% of its profit into the groups expansion. Lat year alone that was 7,5 billion Euros.
The majority of that investment takes place outside Germany. There are plenty of Lidls in Germany. This means new jobs for Bulgarians working in Lidl and Kaufland and the connected sectors serving the supermarket chain.
The Schwarz group could not do this without a border free Europe and EU funding programmes that fund Bulgarian infrastructure. In 2018 alone, German companies invested 184,7 million Euros in Bulgaria.
But German investment in Bulgaria and EU funding are not the entire story. Bulgaria is also suffering from massive labour emigration to richer countries. And the richer countries benefit from this outflow of workers and intelligence. In Germany alone 337, 015 Bulgarians contribute to the Germany economy.
The brain drain is a huge cost to the Bulgarian economy. 23% or just over one million Bulgarians are actively looking for work abroad. Bulgarian scientists emigrated to the US, Germany, Canada, UK and the Scandinavian countries. The Bulgarian administration is slowly taking action to slow down the outflow of qualified workers.
To simply say that the richer EU countries pay more for the poorer EU members is simply not true. Poorer countries contribute to the EU with much more than money: with people and their skills.
EU money helps big companies like the Schwarz group expand across Europe. And the Schwarz group is not the only one. French supermarkt chain Carrefour, UK’s Tesco, Germany’s Mediamarkt are all EU giants profiting from EU funded infrastructure.
EU migrant workers help fund your and my parents pensions, take care of the elderly, clean our houses and work on Dutch strawberry fields. Yet too often those migrants are treated like shit. They earn less than their German or Dutch counterpart. Too often they are discriminated against. And frequently they return to their country of origin disappointed by the way they were treated.
Next time you buy Dutch cherry tomatoes remember that the Dutch tomato business also makes a profit selling tomatoes in Bulgaria. Or that your Dutch strawberries were picked by Polish migrants.
Here are a couple of links for you if you want to find out more. It takes a little time, but it’s the only way to avoid falling for cheap headlines in the media.
1) EU integration consortium:
“Emigration has become a serious problem for Bulgaria due to its negative impact on population growth and the present shortage of labour that occurred along with the economic revival since 2000. “
2) Die Welt:
“So werden im Helferbereich von Deutschen 2313 Euro, von den Ausländern 1918 Euro (Minus 17 Prozent) und den Ausländern aus den wichtigsten acht Asylherkunftsstaaten nur ein Entgelt von 1647 Euro (Minus 29 Prozent) erzielt.”
3) Friedrich Ebert Stiftung:
“A huge number of the Bulgarians who have emigrated over the
last 30 years are of working age. They also have the skills and experience of advanced, competitive labour markets. This experience would be invaluable for the Bulgarian economy if these labour migrants decided to return.”
4) European Union, EU budget Bulgaria:
“The money paid into the EU budget by Bulgaria helps fund programmes and projects in all EU countries – like building roads, subsidising researchers and protecting the environment.”
5) Turnover Schwarz Group, Germany:
“Überdurchschnittlich hoch war das Wachstum auf den Auslandsmärkten. Die Gruppe ist heute in 30 Ländern präsent. Wachstumsmotor und Zugpferd in der Schwarz-Gruppe ist weiterhin Lidl.”
6) Bulgarian German Trade Chamber:
“184,7 Mio. Euro betragen nach Angaben
der BNB die deutschen Direktinvestitionen in Bulgarien im Jahr 2018 “
7) The Bulgarian Scientists on the Move: Brain Drain and Brain Circulation
“In Bulgaria during the period 1989 -1995, 11.5% of the outflow from science emigrated abroad; the main destinations the scientists emigrated to were: USA – 28% of the outflow, Germany 16.6%, Canada 9.9%, UK 5.7%, the Scandinavian countries 8%.”