The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) will discuss on Wednesday (19 September) the next multi-annual financial framework (MFF) with budget commissioner Günter Oettinger. EESC President Luca Jahier told EURACTIV.com that the long-term budget for 2021-2027 should be increased to 1.3% of EU’s GDP.
Luca Jahier is the president of the EESC, an EU consultative body grouping employees, employers and the civil society.
He spoke to EURACTIV’s Jorge Valero.
What are the key messages the EESC will deliver to Commissioner Oettinger today?
We were happy with the European Commission’s MFF proposal for a couple of reasons, but we were not satisfied enough with other things.
Firstly, we have to be grateful to the Commission for putting forward a complex proposal that looks into the future. Now we have eight months before the European elections. It is a short time but we have time to deliver. Without any decision on the MFF before the elections, the message will be important for voters.
What is the EESC’s opinion on the MFF proposal itself?
There have been new priorities included in the proposal, such as security and defence, more investment for the protection of EU’s external borders, migration, and the budget increase for innovation or the relaunch of the investment plan. The Commission has given key direction adding more priorities to our future agenda.
Secondly, the Commission clearly stressed that its own resources represent a key source to finance this new budget.
Finally, on the issue of the conditionality linked to the rule of law, the Commission’s proposal may be too strict. It is only connected to the independence of the supervisory body of the judiciary system as a guarantor of sound financial management. We expect to expand this conditionality.
What is your main criticism?
The new priorities come with cuts on the so called “old priorities”. Are these ‘old priorities’ not performing well enough? Or are they not so important anymore? In my opinion two things are very clear.
These priorities, which represent a large part of the EU budget, gave us the capacity to deal with the most severe crisis in the history of the EU. They also helped to bring the needed transformation in sectors such as agriculture, in rural development or in cohesion and social policy. In some cases there is even a need to increase some funding, for example in the case of social funds to guarantee the implementation of the EU’s pillar of social rights.
We therefore see a clear contradiction. New priorities should not be adopted by cutting down existing ones that performed well, even if they could perform better.
Considering these new and old priorities, the proposed MFF level is not enough. We believe the minimum should be 1.3%, as the European Parliament has said. This budget is not as ambitious as it could be.
But there are member states that consider 1.1% of the EU’s GDP too much. My question to these countries would be: what do you propose to cut?
One of your predecessors, Henri Malosse, was the first president of an EU institution to visit Viktor Orban in a long time during autumn 2013. He said back then that Orbán policies were “innovative”. Would you agree with him?
I would not comment on what was done by my predecessor a few years ago.
We cannot avoid dialogue with a democratically elected head of government. The European Parliament also invited Orbán to the plenary. But I believe that everybody in Europe must respect the fundamental rights and the Rule of Law. The principles included in the Copenhagen criteria to access the EU.
Breaching freedom of expression because limits imposed on [foreign] universities and measures against civil society organisations because they assist migrants are evidence that very few would disagree that they are clearly affecting fundamental values.
Malosse was also involved in a recent controversy as he travelled to Maldives with other members of the EESC. The group introduced itself as an ‘unofficial delegation’ of the committee ahead of the elections in the country.
Are you concerned about potential abuses of the position by other EESC members? Are you going to strengthen internal controls?
I don’t think we had such cases in the past. The position of the committee has been very clear as we said in the statement we issued. The committee has no role in electoral monitoring. This was a private mission.
Given that we never had such issue in the past, we don’t have the sanction procedure in place that the European Parliament has. But there will be a clear stance on this during our plenary, in line with our previous statement.