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Does the European Commission spend 80 thousand euros a year on alcohol?

Elections
Fact-check

Pagella Politica, Italy

13 March 2019, Updated: 16 March 2019

On February 4th, Giorgia Meloni, leader of the nationalist Italian party Fratelli d’Italia, said that “the European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker costs European citizens 510 million euros a year, of which 80 thousand is spent on alcohol”. Do the figures hold up? We checked.

What is the source of the figures?

The figure cited by Meloni (510 million euros) corresponds to half of how much it really costs to administer the Commission in one year.

In 2018 the EU spent about 9.6 billion euros for expenses related to administration. 7.6 billion euros went to administrative costs for all the institutions, and two billion euros to employee pensions.

When it comes to the European Commission alone, its administration cost about 1.1 billion euros in 2018 (the annual cost of the Italian chamber of deputies is close). As the Official Journal of the European Union shows, among the various items of expenditure are those relating to officials, external staff, acquisition and renting of buildings, security and surveillance and various forms of insurance.

Meloni does not indicate the sources of her data, but it is possible that the former minister is using numbers found in an article published in La Verità on February 4th and cited in a post on the official Facebook page of Fratelli d’Italia.
This article does not clarify how the figure of 510 million is reached either, but does contains data on the second element to check in Meloni’s claim: the 80 000 spent on alcohol by the Commission.

Does the Commission spend 80 000 euros a year on alcohol?

The European Commission told us they have no data on how much the institution spends each year on alcohol. The Commission also said that the item of expenditure is vague (what is meant by alcohol? A beer? A bottle of wine?) and almost impossible to calculate precisely. You would have to take account, for example, of all spending on officials, employees and events organised by the institution which necessitated the purchase of alcohol for, say, a catering service.

The article in Verità cites as a source “the portal collecting all the calls for tender for the facilities occupied by the European institutions”. The site in question is eTendering, and contains all the calls for tender made by the European Union. Using keywords related to drinks, we find that on September 5th 2017 a call was published for a tender entitled “supply of foodstuffs and drinks for the canteens and restaurants of the European Commission in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg”.

As the text of the call explains: “the aim is to supply the catering services of the European Commission in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg with foodstuffs delivered to 10 sites”.

Of the 17 lots into which the call is divided – lasting 36 months – numbers 15 and 16 refer to the supply of beer and wine, at a total value of 80 thousand euros, excluding VAT. Other lots have a much greater value, such as that for bread and fresh pastries (310 thousand euros), or that for butter, eggs and cheese (559 thousand euros).

But how many bottles are we talking about? Are the drinks fancy? Let’s look at the lot for wine.

As shown by a table linked with the call (downloadable here), the bidder should supply 5,855 units each year, among which 1,670 cartons of between 5 and 10 litres of white cooking wine and 500 bottles of between 20 and 30 centilitres of red wine.

In essence, the 80 thousand euros Meloni mentions does not correspond to the European Commission’s annual expenses for “alcohol”. The figure refers to the estimated value of the supply of beer and wine to the canteens of the European Union’s locations in Luxembourg, where the products are then bought by clients of the facilities (where, according to this review, the food isn’t too bad at all).

The verdict

According to Giorgia Meloni, the European Commission costs taxpayers 510 million euros a year, of which 80 thousand is spent on alcohol. The leader of Fratelli d’Italia is not specific for at least two reasons. Firstly, in 2018 administration costs for the Commission were about 1.1 billion euros, double the figure reported by Meloni.

Secondly, it is true that European institutions spend 80 thousand a year on alcohol, but it makes sense: they have catering services in Luxembourg, and people pay for what they eat and drink. Nevertheless, it’s very difficult to estimate the actual costs relating to this item – as the Commission itself confirms – and the figure cited by Meloni refers to a specific call for tender for the supply, among other things, of beer and wine.

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