The notion of ‘added value’ is a centerpiece in debates on the EU budget reform. However, this notion lacks conceptual clarity.
An analysis of official documents and the academic literature on the EU budget reveals the existence of at least four different ways of using added value: first, to refer to the additional gains of acting at the EU level vis-à-vis the national level; second, to refer to the benefits derived from good management and implementation; third, to refer to the opportunity costs of spending in one area vis-à-vis other areas of intervention; and finally, to refer to the positive side-effects stemming from public interventions at the EU level (such as their contribution to other Union’s objectives or its positive impact on sub-national levels of governance).
These different uses are not necessarily incompatible. More economic-type, objective notions of ‘added value’ appear as more pertinent for a rigorous comparison of EU spending proposals. Yet, the existence of other, more subjective or political-type visions of ‘added value’ testify of the ultimate political nature of budgetary decisions, and of the need to take these other political considerations into account when deciding how to spend the EU money. In other words, while EU spending proposals should be submitted to an objective ex ante economic assessment, this should not serve to ‘depoliticise’ budget decisions but to make political decisions on EU spending more informed.