Dear EU Taxpayer, did you know you are funding the Mafia?

Did you know the EU has given several billion Euros to the Sicilian Mafia over the last few years? Did you know the EU gives billions of Euros every year to keep corrupt Sicilian politicians in power? Did you know it systematically destroys enterprise and commerce? Read on to find out how.

Have you ever watched a chick hatching out of its egg? It takes hours, and the chick periodically collapses quivering from exhaustion. Yet if you try to help the chick by breaking the egg open, it always dies.

Chick Emerging from Shell

For several decades, the EU has been trying to help the poorer areas of Europe with grants from the European Regional Development Fund. There is also the European Social Fund, the Cohesion fund, and many others. The purpose of all of them is to tax the richer areas of Europe and give out grants to the poorer areas, to help them develop economically.

How does the funding work?

Many of these grants are given for a specific project which, if successful, should reimburse their profits to the EU. If the project turns no profit, they do not have to pay back anything. Failure brings no negative consequences at all.

The people running these projects never aim to make them a success, economically. Why would they? They do the fun part, planning how to hire all their friends for each part of the project, thus giving them a helping hand economically. If they are in politics, they can get LOADS of loyal voters that way!

In the absence of any simulation of real-life commerce or micro-economics, the incompetent people are never exposed. They run a money-losing enterprise for life, which never goes bust. Some of them may not even realise what pointless parasites they are.

Some do, of course. The European Regional Development Fund is a favourite of the Mafia here in Sicily, as it is obsessed with “the low carbon economy.” Thanks to this fund, the Mafia has filled parts of Sicily with wind turbines which are not connected to the national grid and have never generated electricity.

In April 2003, 1.3 billion Euros were confiscated from Sicilian mafioso Vito Nicastri, who received such vast amounts of money from the EU to build wind turbines that the Sicilians called him “The Lord of the Wind.” He never built many turbines and never switched on any of them.

So, that’s how EU grants are giving a helping hand to corrupt politicians, economic parasites and organised crime.

All these funds have achieved nothing

As Vox Europ reported several years ago, in a translation of an article originally published by Italian newspaper La Stampa, all the money poured into Sicily has not achieved any improvements whatsoever:

“€700 million to improve the water supply? In 2000, the water supply was “stop-and-flow” for 33% of Sicilian households, now 38.7% have water worries. Incentives to entice off-season tourists? Cost €400 million, enough to buy up an airline. And yet the ranks of those thankless tourists haven’t swelled, but petered out: from 1.2% in 2000 to 1.1% in 2007. And as to the €300 million invested in alternative energy projects great and small: it’s true, there isn’t a single hillock without its windmill now, but Sicilian output is stuck at 5% of total consumption, as against an average 9.1% for Southern Italy as a whole.”

“And so on and so forth, including a mountainous €230 million spent on railway improvements – used to overhaul a mousy 8 km of the grid. Too bad for all those Sicilians who, to traverse 400 km between Palermo and Messina, have to take a 4½-hour ride on a single track railway, not counting unforseeable stopovers.”

“Moving right along, it turns out that €300 million has been sprinkled on budding integrated waste management schemes in cities that are still wading through nightmarish mounds of rubbish. The funds earmarked for the construction of 260 dumps and 64 recyling centres and waste-processing plants have failed to raise Sicily above the 6% recycling mark, though the target was 35%.”

If you want proof of how effective Sicilian waste management is, here’s a photo my my town. I live in Western Sicily, near Palermo. When the bin men fill their two lorries with rubbish, they have to drive it to CATANIA, the other side of the island, to dump it in Sicily’s only landfill site that is not yet completely full. How environmentally friendly!

rubbish mountain
A street full of rubbish in Bagheria, 2013

The more economically astute among you may have noticed that this reallocation of wealth is communist economics. It is exactly what Soviet Russia was doing with all those five-year plans we used to joke about in the eighties. They took money from the industries that were doing well, and gave it to the ones that were doing badly, and they took money from rich regions and gave it to the poorer ones, to “help” them develop. Just like the EU. It didn’t work in the USSR, and it doesn’t work in the EU. 

China used to do the same thing. Look what improvements the Chinese economy has achieved, since the reductions in state “help” and the liberalisation of agriculture and industry.

Why does all this help fail?

Did China or Russia, in the old days, ever stop to ask why some industries, or some regions, were doing badly? There are always sound reasons for economic failure. The definition of a good entrepreneur is someone who can diagnose them, and fix the problems.

In economically successful EU regions, bad company directors run their businesses into the ground and lose their job or go bankrupt. This clears the way for good managers. In EU regions designated for economic development, bad managers get grants which hide the fact they are bad managers, and enable them limp on.

The opportunity cost of this is immeasurable

Let me give you an example. I live in a Sicilian town with a museum of art by Renato Guttuso, whom art fans will know is Sicily’s most famous artist. The rest of the town is full of baroque villas and churches. It is a place of equal or greater historical interest than Sicily’s highly touristy towns, Cefalù and Taormina.

The Renato Guttuso Museum in Villa Cattolica, Bagheria

The restaurants, shops and cafés could be packed with customers. The hotels could be fully booked, and new ones could open. All these well-off local business owners would spend their money buying new cars, getting their hair done more often, having their houses refurbished, giving their kids private tuition after school, and so on. Everyone in town would become richer.

But no! Because the director of the Renato Guttuso museum thinks it is alright to have no website, no advertising, and almost no visitors. They get 13 visitors on average, per day.

The way forward

If exposed to normal market forces, the director would have failed and been replaced with someone competent. But here in Sicily, the EU wants to help. The EU doesn’t want the incompetent to meet their downfall. The EU doesn’t want people to learn from their commercial mistakes.

The poor regions of Europe will never grow economically until the EU stops “helping” them, stops pulling the egg shell away. The economy needs to struggle to life naturally. Only when the incompetent and the corrupt run out of easy money, and meet their downfall, will the true entrepreneurs be able to take their places.

Only then will Sicily start to develop economically.

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28 thoughts on “Dear EU Taxpayer, did you know you are funding the Mafia?

  1. A really good post, people who dream of living in Italy might not like it, but it is unfortunately a real view of Sicily. This is why Mrs S emigrated to the UK.

    There are a row of wind turbines near the village where the parents of Mrs S live. Surprise surprise they don’t work either.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Mrs S gets really angry, no doubt you are up to-date with the corruption, mafia links and fiasco in Rome. Italy has just managed to gain last place in Europe on a list. The list of most corrupt countries..

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      2. Yes, shocking isn’t it? The Movimento 5 Stelle talked about this corruption ages ago and they were laughed out of town. Now the proverbial has hit the fan and they are vindicated.
        And yes, I do wonder how the corruption will ever stop when the EU not only turns a blind eye, but actually encourages it.

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    1. Thanks for the blog design compliment!
      It had a free makeover done by a very talented and generous blogger called DDD:
      http://dddangerous.com/
      I think it could be televised as “Renovate my Blog” or perhaps “How to look Ten times Bloggier in Ten Days”, something like that!

      Anyway, yes, I do sometimes look at Sicilian /Italian culture and wonder of politics can ever be honest when most citizens aren’t really. Cheating or fiddling the system, or at least warping it like Machiavelli, is part of the culture, it’s seems to be the only way they know how to operate. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Its all vey depressing. At dinner parties where I am generally the only non Italian present, they rant and rave about the Germans trying to ruin Italy with their fiscal position – and if that is not enough they bleat about Sicily being an oppressed colony prevented from fulfilling its true potential by discriminatory and unfair practices.
    The sad fact of course is that this beautiful Sicily is populated by communist minded, corrupt and inept types.
    Since those who run Sicily are Sicilians, all I have to say is that people get the rulers they deserve, and therefore the conditions of life they deserve.

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    1. Hear hear! I am outspoken (you may have noticed!) but even I have been a tiny bit too chicken to point out people get the governments they deserve. But it’s true. Every govt is made of people, people who come from the same culture as the country they govern, and who therefore behave the same way.
      The oppressed colony argument is wearing a bit thin now, too. This was the point I wanted to make – “helping” them isn’t really helping them, it is just helping them to remain helpless.

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  3. You’re so right on, again. The big problem is, how does one get this info into the minds of the northern Europeans? Most people up north are so apathetic and ignorant about how the EU operates, almost as much as the EU leadership itself. I think it’ll take a lot of social and economic downfall before citizens to finally decide to vote and/or demonstrate en mass against the EU. I guess that’s just the nature of most people.

    I drove to Cefala Diana a few days ago when the wind was at an average speed of around 10 knots, and on the mountain ridge just before Cefala Diana (driving south), there is a large number of wind turbines, and I noticed then that only 3 of them were turning. I was wondering, are the rest broken, or are the 3 so efficient that they can power all the towns in the vicinity (no way), or something else.

    As I mentioned in my unanswered mail to you, with all the things in disarray here, I sometimes feel like I’m living in a scene from the movie Idiocrasy. That doesn’t take away that it’s still a beautiful country, especially outside of the decaying cities.

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    1. Oh dear, you’re the second person who has told me they sent an email which I didn’t find. Which email address did you use? I’ve been having trouble with the Yahoo one, it often locks me out.

      And I agree, a major part of the problem is that people in the north of Europe don’t know how badly their money is being wasted, or how much of it, and aren’t really interested anyway. In the UK UKIP makes very good points about EU waste, but their nutty reputation and worries about racism stop people listening to them.

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      1. I first sent 2 FB messages on 24/11, and assuming they ended up in your ‘Other’ folder (because they too were unanswered), I sent an email on 27/11 to the yahoo email address listed on your contact page.

        I don’t really follow UKIP’s national politics since I don’t live in the UK, but I often watch and wholeheartedly agree with Nigel Farage’s sharp speeches in the EU parliament. But in politics, ‘racism’ is more often than not the baseless joker card to instantly win an argument from an opponent that one otherwise has no valid arguments to win with.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. “people get the governments they deserve.”

    Yes and no. It’s all about incentives. Give people the right incentives and they will act productively, give them the wrong incentives and they will try to screw everyone else. All over the world there are ruling classes, but not the hackneyed classes described by Marx. The new ruling classes have political power and are net recipients of tax revenue. The new exploited classes lack political power and pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. Until the bums are kicked out of power or Atlas shrugs, the corruption will continue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s true, Malcolm, but I think there’s another cultural factor too.
      Sicily (and some other southern European societies) are “low trust” societies, where most people will try to rip you off if they can get away with it. In high trust societies like England or Germany, for example, we recruit people based on their CV (meritocracy) because we can trust it is probably true, and we do business with people who present appropriate offers and credentials because we can safely assume they are probably honest and not criminals.
      In Sicily, people hire their relatives, in the hope that they are less likely to cheat them (even though actually they do sometimes), and they only want to do business with old friends for the same reason. This means the best people for the job never get a chance. This is why low trust societies are poor countries and high trust ones are richer.
      When people from low-trust societies immigrate to high trust societies they usually tend to continue operation in their low-trust way, and it is easy for them to swindle people galore, whom they tend to regard as stupidly gullible.
      So, whilst I agree wholeheartedly with you that giving people the right incentives is absolutely essential – on of the points I tried to make in the article – I also think the low-trust problem is the other major factor and this leads to corruption in politics: people at all socio-economic levels tend to think the corruption is fine so long as they can make it work in their favour.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Low-trust vs. high-trust society: Interesting wording to point out what’s wrong. I never heard these words, but they fit perfectly! I have an alternative suggestion: People who rip others off have no honour. It is an honour-less society! An honourable man does not commit crime since he stands above such things. Furthermore, Sicilans are not relaxed, they cannot stop at a red traffic light. We, the Germans, are the most relaxed persons, we stop at every red light. And when it comes to whores and the like, Sicilians show up time and again to be no real men. Real men do not go to whores.

        All in all, I suggest more German culture to Sicilians: Be real men! Be more relaxed! Keep your honour clean!

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      2. I think it is so ironic: Normally, Sicilians think of themselves as real men, relaxed and honourable, whereas cold Germans and Englishmen are always in a hurry, weak as men, and interested more in money than in honour. But the picture can easily be turned on its head. (Concerning the whores: I remember well dozens of whores standing at the streets leading from Catania and Syracuse into the inner island … just like in the novels of Camilleri, it is real!)

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Once again I applaud your realism and your ideas. You are right about so much. But after heaving a big sigh, I have to chime in that I also see some hopeful things. I organize tours exclusively to Sicily, for individuals and groups. Passion for Sicily and my Sicilian heritage is what drives me. We come to tour like regular tourists, but I’ve done some atypical tours such as a Drawing Tour and a Yoga Tour. I’m working on a Sicilian Idyll. I try to show people, in many ways, the beauty and magic of Sicily. It’s true that the tourism aspect is sometimes very frustrating because of closed museums, inefficiencies, and incompetencies. People find it hard to think outside the box. The word urgent is not in the lexicon. I shake my head a lot, but I also see some very hard working, dedicated and determined people. People who are working within the confines you talk about, this Big Brother hanging over them, the tax system, the ridiculous amount of time it takes to make improvements to their places and on and on. These are the people I try to support. Not everyone is an offender and I am loathe to throw up my hands, to give up. I am putting my faith in grass roots organizations of all sorts, including anti-Mafia, in places like Siracusa that may be the life-blood of Sicily with entrepreneurs, artisans, and groups who are determined to educate and elevate, in individuals who fight to do what’s good and right, and in people like you who help make people aware. Look what you have already accomplished with the Guttuso Museum by bringing attention and outrage at the state of things. Once the press starts talking about the findings and the changes, perhaps the snowball will keep rolling. One thing we know is that Sicily has lived through many a hideous time. Resilience counts for something. Time, patience, and unity is what’s required. Ongoing discussion and every change helps to move the island forward. It’s not fun, easy, or right, to do it this way. In general the population is paralyzed by all that you cited which sadly, but eventually, turns into apathy. But if the EU and the government don’t do what’s right, quiet rebellion and determination can help effect changes from the bottom on up, slowly but surely. At some point the message will be heard and responded to, even though it may take a long time. I just have to believe that and work with that in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very well said and I completely agree. I think Siracusa is a really wonderful example of the way forward. I feel privileged to have befriended one of the curators of the archaeological museum in Siracusa this summer, and I dream that one day the museums in my town will have people as dedicated, inspiring and just plain enthusiastic as her.

      One of my motives in publishing this article was that I firmly believe you cannot solve a problem until you are willing to talk about it openly and thoroughly. You need to define the problem properly, without shying away from saying the things that really hurt. Only once you have demolished what is wrong can you start to build what is right.

      I know that the place I live is one of the most problematic in Sicily, and to people who come from towns even as close as Palermo it seems that I exaggerate and see only the negative. I am well aware my town needs a lot more work done on it than most of Sicily. But I also know just how much outstanding potential Sicily has and that, with the right medicine, Sicily can and should be the pride of Europe.

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  6. Wow, countless windmills but none of them working and the EU is still giving Sicily money? One may ask how ‘donors’ continue pumping money into a bottomless corrupt pits even though they can see what is going on, Well, donors have budgets for a particular area e.g. in your case, Sicily. The officers working for the donor are under pressure to deliver x amount and sometimes feel they have to turn a blind eye to what is going on. Is this a moral way of doing things? No, but business goes on as usual as promotions of the officers may also be based on how much money they disburse.

    I think the only way to do away with such corrupt or unsuccessful utilization of aid involves the following:
    1) Electorate – do not vote for corrupt/ineffective politicians back into office.
    2) Politicians – Desist from helping themselves to government coffers.
    3) Donors – withhold funding for unsuccessful or corruption laden projects.

    The above will take a lot of education and determination as there may be some repercussions. Sometimes a region may complain that they have not been given ‘their’ fair share of the aid cake. It is not easy to correct the situation, but I think it can be done.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think one particular problem in Sicily is tat the corrupt politicians give government jobs or cash to people to vote for them. This way people keep voting for corrupt people. Sicilians always moan about corruption except they seem to like it when they think it is working for them!
    But we do have a anti-corruption party in our local council now and so change is happening in some places.
    I definitely agree a lot of education and determination is needed!

    Like

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