The EU establishes policies every of its member has to/should abide. Without doubt many of these are well intended. Without doubt the EU promotes peace, security, economical stability and a series of many other goals.

However, making good and fair policies is hard. Creating a perfectly fair environment is already (near) impossible on a small scale. So I can easily believe that on a large scale, like Europe, it's even more difficult. Thus I would expect, that there are policies which were knowingly made, that they would be beneficial for one country, but not necessarily for another.

Speaking out aloud these discrepancies however, gives the opporunity to address and factually improve them. What is fine and working today, might not be fine and working tomorrow. Thus I am very interested finding responses to the following two questions:

  1. What are examples for such policies?

  2. Have there been cases where countries were trading such advantages/disadvantages, (here we are entering economics, optimisation and game theory).

I do not intend to form a judgement on these policies. This question takes just a very narrow, local look at these policies. Without knowing more, especially context or all policies together, a proper judgement might not even be possible. Politics on such a level is incredible difficult. (And likely out of the scope of Politics Beta.)

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    You mean, like how the Eurozone's tight monetary policy overwhelmingly benefits Germany at the expense of the rest of Europe? Sep 22, 2019 at 16:57
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    @DenisdeBernardy example is very relevant but note that very often things that are presented as benefiting a country in general really benefit some constituency within this country. Nearly all trade rules are like that, the trade-offs are more about who benefits and who doesn't in both countries than on one country benefiting at the expense of another.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 22, 2019 at 23:12
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    At risk of stating the obvious, it is possible to have individual policies that are only good for one party, but the sum of all policy be good for everyone. Care should be taken, if we swap my coat for your shoes, to avoid emphasising only the coat transfer policy!
    – Josiah
    Sep 23, 2019 at 7:39
  • 2
    I'm curious as to why a list question was not closed? i.e. which answer would/could be chosen as THE answer?
    – CGCampbell
    Sep 23, 2019 at 18:31
  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a list question. Sep 24, 2019 at 5:02

5 Answers 5


The euro[zone] is probably a prime example; there a tons of critical materials about it, see Stiglitz' book (summary/review) on the topic etc. The criticism is that the Eurozone doesn't quite meet the technical criteria for a currency union, aka the optimum currency area so this puts a lot of unintended pressure on the poor[er] and less competitive countries of the EU, which instead of being able to devalue their currency have to emigrate their labor... which doesn't happen fast enough because of high[er] frictions in the labor market of the EU compared to, say, the US. (Language barriers between EU countries, etc.) See DW's coverage of a CEP study for putative impacts in numerical terms (always to be taken with a grain of salt for this kind of counterfactual analysis.)

Even the bare Single Market idea is not without criticism. A lot of the Eastern European countries have seen massive emigration, after joining the EU, even in the absence of Eurozone-level integration. The rate of depopulation was one the highest in recent times and the most qualified were the most mobile. This put a lot a of pressure on social services like healthcare in Eastern European countries, due to shortage of personnel. Of course, for the people who emigrated, the fact that they get paid more (and live better) in the West is a plus. On average Europeans gain economically from the Single Market. But these gains aren't equally distributed either. If your neighbor gets richer faster than you, it's easy to feel like you're losing, with unpleasant implications for political choices etc.

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    I think it should be mentioned that the above criticism of the Eurozone is controversial to say the least (and in fact that CEP study has been criticised in itself for choosing the nations it uses for the virtual simulation in a "creative" way). Sep 22, 2019 at 19:42
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    The criticism of the euro is broader than that: All smaller countries risk suffering needlessly from asymmetric shocks (and everybody suffers from austerity), not only poorer or structurally weaker countries. They pride themselves of taking it in strides but there are reasons to believe that the Netherlands or Finland are significantly worse than they would have been without the euro.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 22, 2019 at 23:15
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    @DenisNardin Not really, at least outside of Germany. There are many people who steadfastly refuse to face that in Germany, including the minister of finance and many professional economists but that's another question. The difference in media coverage and learned discourse during the acute phase of the crisis was really striking.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 22, 2019 at 23:17
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    Not only the weak countries are hurt by the Euro. The current low interest rates are hurting pensions in the Netherlands. A large part of the Dutch pensions are based on savings, and with the low interest those don't yield enough. Even with adjusting the rules and not compensating inflation for years, it's likely that next years pensions of millions of people will be reduced.
    – Sjoerd
    Sep 24, 2019 at 6:27
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    @Relaxed: Which particular part? Pensions being paid by the state, not by funds? Southern states being in high debt? High debt being affected by high interest rates?
    – MSalters
    Sep 24, 2019 at 7:04

The Common Agricultural Policy is/has been pretty controversial, and benefits some countries more than others. Whether it is a flat disadvantage to other countries is a separate matter, but it could be argued that it provides a comparative disadvantage.

CAP provides subsidies for agriculture, and historically this was very advantageous to France (and still is to my understanding). France still has a very large rural + agricultural sector, and subsidies to boost production thus benefits France. Countries without large agricultural sectors still pay towards CAP but reap less benefits from this specific policy. Given that CAP made up most of the EEC / EU budget historically, this was a big deal.

In fact CAP is part of what lead to the UK rebate, which was given to the UK in the 80s to make up for the UK getting little benefit from CAP which was the main expenditure of the EEC at the time. From a certain perspective this answers your second point - the UK is still opposed to CAP, but the rebate means the UK pays less towards the EU budget than it otherwise would, and thus saves the UK money.

  • Good link to the Rebate. It might be worth linking in the Rebate page on wikipedia which discusses some of the issues that lead to the Rebate and problems with it now. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UK_rebate
    – Jontia
    Sep 23, 2019 at 9:37
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    And by extension the whole EU budget, because the CAP is such a big part of it. The BBC has some graphs with net winners/losers bbc.com/news/uk-politics-48256318
    – Fizz
    Sep 23, 2019 at 18:31

The UK rebate

From Wikipedia:

The UK rebate (or UK correction) is a financial mechanism that reduces the United Kingdom's contribution to the EU budget in effect since 1985. It is a complex calculation which equates to a reduction of approximately 66% of the UK's net contribution – the amount paid by the UK into the EU budget less receipts from the EU budget.

The Conversation has a more in-depth article on the rebate. Explaining how it's calculated, and how much money is involved.

The rebate had (has) bipartisan support in the UK, with former PM Tony Blair defending it in 1998, from the BBC:

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Blair said he would stand firm over the budget - money returned to Britain from Brussels under an agreement secured by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

He said: "We are not negotiating the rebate away because the reason for the rebate still exists and it shouldn't be negotiated away because it is justified.

"It is justified because otherwise Britain would be paying a quite disproportionate and unfair amount into the European Union.

Rumour has it the EU won't keep the rebate in place should the UK extend its Brexit transition beyond the end of 2020, from the Guardian:

The UK will lose its rebate from the EU at end of 2020 if it seeks to extend the Brexit transition beyond then, the Guardian has learned.

The loss of the rebate, which to some has been a symbol of British influence in Europe since Margaret Thatcher demanded “our money back”, is expected to fuel Tory Brexiters’ demands to keep the transition period as short as possible.

The rebate on the UK payments to the EU budget is worth £4.5bn a year on average. The money is never sent to Brussels, one aspect of the misleading claim on the leave campaign bus.

Temporary rebates

There have also been temporary budget correction mechanisms which have benefited a number of countries including Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden. These are listed on the EU website.

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    The end of the rebate, as a side-effect of the UK leaving the EU, is a good thing in my mind.
    – Dohn Joe
    Sep 23, 2019 at 13:20
  • @DohnJoe if they leave in a situation without there being such payments then there obviously won't be a rebate. In case of a deal, it would probably be specified in that deal. As for the comments in the quote, it's in case there is some sort of agreement with a transition period in which there are payments.
    – JJJ
    Sep 23, 2019 at 13:23
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    @DohnJoe the EU budget as a whole will be worse off (the U.K. still paid more in than it received, despite the rebate) so I don’t know why you’d be especially happy about it?
    – Tim
    Sep 23, 2019 at 14:24
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    @Tim I am happy (of sorts) since the rebate is unfair towards all other countries that contribute more than they receive. While there are some policy fields or programs that benefit some countries more than others, at least on paper all countries are treated equally. That's something that's not the case with the rebate.
    – Dohn Joe
    Sep 23, 2019 at 14:30
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    @DohnJoe the UK concern would of course be that while countries are treated equally on paper, the way the paper itself is structured leaned towards other countries. The related question on CAP is probably a better place to get those details though.
    – Jontia
    Sep 23, 2019 at 14:39

The EU approach to applying the German minimum wage law (MiLoG) to transport companies partially operating in Germany supposedly improved living and working conditions for German workers, but damaged international competition in the transport (especially Freight) industry[0]. This has resulted in poorer Central and Eastern European countries' Transport/Freight industries to weaken.

[0] Wojciech Paprocki EU Transport Policy Failure: The Case of Germany's Mindestlohngesetz (featured in Transport Development Challenges in the Twenty-First Century - Proceedings of the 2015 TranSopot Conference, 2016). Available from: Google Books (excerpts).

  • This is potentially a really good example, given the abstract from the paper specified. However the paper is behind a steep paywall. Is there anything short/punchy elsewhere in the document you could quote to flesh out the assertion here?
    – Jontia
    Sep 23, 2019 at 14:12
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    @Jontia I added a link to excerpts of the paper on Google Books. It's a terribly long link, but it has quite a bit of the text available.
    – JJJ
    Sep 23, 2019 at 14:23
  • I've returned the book to the library already... so not till I get a stress-free time at work when I can visit 55 Broadway Sep 23, 2019 at 14:28
  • I think that was a German (not EU) policy. But it seems it did get translated in a EU level proposal as "Mobility Package 1". I'm not sure in what form it was adopted though. See (the links from) politics.stackexchange.com/questions/45778/…
    – Fizz
    Sep 23, 2019 at 18:36
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    @Fizz - The minimum wage policy was German, but the problem was with the interpretation of EU law as to how Germany's minimum wage should apply to countries using their freedom of movement (EU policy) to transport Freight across Germany. The article from the TranSopot conference details this pretty well and fairly. Sep 24, 2019 at 7:06

While not directly a full answer, there is something I feel I must point out. As per your question:

The EU establishes policies every of its member has to/should abide.

I often see the label ‘the EU decided …’ applied to all sorts of things. With respect to actual regulations and policies, it bears to keep in mind who is actually deciding.

EU regulations are established in what is known as the trilogue: only if Commission, Parliament and Council agree on a final text this will become a directive.

The Commission is probably the most ‘EU’ of all these bodies as there is only one from each member but also each commissioner has only one designated area of expertise. (However, countries will often attempt to nominate a commissioner who then handles what said country deems most important).

The Parliament has members from every EU member state. The MEP’s will generally base their decision on what their home party considers a good idea because they probably want to get reelected at the next election. Still, as the number of MEP’s is monotonous with increasing population, countries like Germany are much more represented in Parliament than countries like Malta.

But the really interesting body of the trilogue is the Council. In this, the responsible ministers from each country sit and vote on new proposals. They vote according to what is known as the Double Majority: 55 % of member states representing 65 % of the population must agree to a proposal (a blocking minority technically requires member states representing 35 % of the population plus one state).

Of course, this theory still does not rule out policies disadvantageous to a single or a couple of member states being implemented anyway. In practice, EU diplomacy tends to reach a very finnicky steady state of constant compromise and pleasing everybody. In short, member state A will agree to clause X that disproportionally benefits member state B if in return B agrees to clause Y which benefits A – only far more complicated than that.

Thus, all decisions have been, in principle, supported by all member states because they will gain a different advantage if they accept a disadvantageous decision.

  • This doesn't answer the question at all.
    – Sjoerd
    Sep 24, 2019 at 23:11
  • @Sjoerd: It sounds like it's challenging the frame of the question to me.
    – Ellesedil
    Sep 24, 2019 at 23:21
  • @Ellesedil Which frame is being challenged?
    – Sjoerd
    Sep 24, 2019 at 23:24

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