Ahead of a crucial European Parliament vote on the European Defence Fund (EDF) on Thursday (17 April), MEPs are at odds over the issue of parliamentary scrutiny, internal communication seen by EURACTIV suggests.
The EU institutions reached a provisional agreement on the fund in February, which will now be subject to formal approval by MEPs in this week’s Parliament plenary session, and by ministers at a later date.
However, several EU lawmakers dealing with the file have raised concerns as Parliament and member states disagreed on the fund’s objectives, ethical control and the eligibility criteria of the entities and actions financed, as well as the direct or indirect management of the fund.
Some MEPs are bitter about the concessions made by the Parliament to the member states, particularly by giving up parliamentary scrutiny over the fund.
Letters circulated ahead of the vote and obtained by EURACTIV suggest that although negotiations over the partial political agreement of the fund are formally over, the EU assembly is split over what role it will have in the future.
The rift became clear after a letter sent by Edouard Martin, shadow rapporteur on the dossier for the centre-left S&D group, in mid-February.
Martin suggested that the decision to give up the chamber’s position on implementing legislation “if upheld, will not only weaken the Parliament’s scrutiny powers regarding the implementation of a sensitive, €13 billion programme” but also create “a damaging precedent, hampering its negotiation capacity in all the other EU’s long-term budget (MFF) related files.
Some legal experts suggested that giving up parliamentary scrutiny over one of the 40 MFF-files would create a precedent for member states to argue for similar procedures in the remaining files, as most of them are community funds.
In response, the rapporteurs from the centre-right EPP, right-wing ECR and liberal ALDE groups responsible for the file issued a joint response rejecting the allegations, advising sceptical MEPs to “rest assured that they have striven to defend the prerogatives of the institution to the end”.
According to a letter sent by the leadership of the Greens, the group asked European Parliament President Antonio Tajani to postpone the vote about the new European Defence Fund until after the EU elections.
“In order not to damage other sectorial MFF-files and the EP negotiating position on delegated acts for work programmes, we would urge you to not put this partial political agreement on the EDF to the plenary for a final vote,” they wrote to Tajani last week.
But in the view of EPP, ECR and ALDE “it would be extremely damaging to the interests of the Union if this significant political breakthrough should be postponed to the next mandate,” their rapporteurs argued in a joint letter.
They added that “some of the negotiators displayed a negative sensitivity from the outset in this discussion due to their mistrust in EU defence policies” and that “it is in no way justified to question the proceedings and conclusions of a trilogue which took place in transparent and democratic conditions.”
“How on earth can you actually assume the outcome of the next Parliament? There is no reason to assume there would be damage to the EU’s interest if we would have postponed it. On the contrary, the couple of months more would have given us the chance to discuss all fault-lines thoroughly and maybe come to terms with the member states over our role,” a party source close to the file told EURACTIV ahead of the debate on the file on Wednesday (17 April).
Although there has been no formal reply by Tajani and the vote is scheduled to take place as planned, the president was said to have acknowledged the issue.
According to plans, the EDF will receive an estimated €13 billion in the EU’s next long-term budget to finance collaborative research projects mainly through grants.
However, the deal does not include the final figures as the EU’s next long-term budget still needs to be approved by the next Parliament in autumn.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox and Samuel Morgan]