The deal relieved leaders of having to grapple with the budget so they could focus on other issues during their two-day summit.
Commission President José Manuel Barroso took the initiative late Wednesday to convene a meeting of Irish presidency and European Parliament officials in a last-minute attempt to negotiate a solution.
Following three hours of talks, leaders appeared at a news conference and a smiling Barroso said he was “delighted” to announce a political agreement on the EU’s long-term budget, calling it a good deal for Europe and the economy.
The leaders, he said, had walked “the extra mile” that separated them from an agreement last week that momentarily through the budget process into turmoil. That happened when major political groups in the European Parliament rejected a statement announcing that Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore had “reached an agreement [on the EU budget for 2014-2020] with the European Parliament’s chief negotiator.”
On Thursday, both Gilmore and chief Parliament rapporteur Alain Lamassoure (EPP, France) were standing alongside Barroso, Parliament President Martin Schulz and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny at the news conference.
Barroso revealed a sketchy outline of the agreement. He said the deal included “more flexibility on both payments and commitments,” as the Parliament had required.
The deal also included “front-loading of expenditure,” the Commission leader said, which means early payments for youth employment, research, education and small business programmes.
Barroso also said that the deal includes the possibility for countries to boost assistance to Europe’s most deprived people.
Money will be spent
Schulz said the leaner, €960-billion fiscal plan for the next seven years would be spent, which was not the case with the seven-year budget period that ends this year. Some €50 billion of unspent money was reimbursed to member over the 2009-2013 period.
“I think there were people who thought this could be repeated even in the current period,” he said, noting that under the agreement reached today, this would not happen.
Schulz also expressed satisfaction at the binding revision clause, which will allow the Parliament to review spending midway through the budget. He also stressed that in the future the EU long-term budget would span over five years, rather than seven, to mirror the EU legislative cycle.
“This is not what I thought would be the best solution. But it is what I could, what we could negotiate here,” he said, thanking the Parliament’s co-rapporteurs Reimer Böge (EPP, Germany) and Ivailo Kalfin (S&D, Bulgaria).
Schulz said he now needed to “sell” the agreement to MEPs and win a majority for a vote expected at next week's session in Strasbourg.
2013 budget in limbo
Asked about the still-outstanding issue of the EU’s amending budget for 2013, Barroso said EU ministers would decide on the first tranche of the draft amending budget no later than the ECOFIN Council on 9 July. Reading from a text, he said the Council also commits to take all necessary steps to ensure that “EU’s obligations for 2013 are fully honoured.”
Schulz said that this was a matter of trust, as the Parliament is expected to vote on the long-term budget before the Council's decision. But he added that if the Council fails to deliver, the Parliament would freeze the 70 or so legislative acts needed to implement the 2014-2020 budget.
EU leaders too will have to endorse the “political agreement”, but the issue appears now more of a formality.