The European Parliament will vote by secret ballot on the EU's 2014-2020 budget, its centre-left President Martin Schulz and Joseph Daul, the leader of the centre-right European People’s Party, said yesterday (7 February).

Schulz, speaking at a late-night news conference, confirmed Daul's earlier statement that the use of the special procedure was planned.

Under parliamentary procedures, one-fifth of MEPs can request the Parliament hold a secret ballot instead of have their votes recorded. The vote is expected within three months, as some 80 legislative acts accompanying the EU budget should be prepared in the meantime.

EurActiv understands that the unusual procedure is aimed at preventing national governments from bullying MEPs by threatening to expose their votes.

Schulz told EU leaders that an eventual agreement would not be an “end point” but a “basis for negotiations” with the Parliament for introducing more flexibility into the EU budget.

“Just like any member state, the EU needs to be able to respond quickly to changing economic and political circumstances. Let me give you one example: if we keep to our rigid approach we will not be able to respond effectively to unexpected events, such as those currently unfolding in Mali,” Schulz said.

He also argued that it would be unfair to present a seven-year spending plan that would bequeath to the next Commission and Parliament budgets much lower than the ones available at present.

Flexibility as the paramount priority

Schulz said that such an approach had nothing to do with planning certainty.

“What we are actually doing is ignoring a problem which calls for an immediate, flexible response. I would also point out that the financial framework would cover a time span during which at least one member state has said that it may leave the European Union,” he told EU leaders.

He argued for the need of flexibility between expenditure categories and financial years as well as introducing a legally binding revision clause, which, like the flexibility arrangements, could be adopted by  qualified-majority voting. Up to now, amending budgets have been subject to majority vote.

Schulz also warned that as it stood, the proposed budget by Council President Herman Van Rompuy could create growing deficit, which would be completely impossible to handle by 2020.

He explained that Van Rompuy had given up to the UK approach which saw as legally binding only the payment ceilings, not the commitments. He said that payments over the period to 2020 would effectively be frozen at the level of the 2011 budget. This, he said, was amounting to massive real cuts. With regards commitments, he explained that in 2020 the same ceiling would still apply as in 2005.

Schulz told reporters he was not going to “sign” such an agreement, unless flexibility which would be able to deal with rolling deficits is introduced. He repeated that he saw the eventual agreement on the budget not as an end point, but as the beginning of negotiations with the European Parliament.