Lawmakers pressure Paris to do more for EU budget

They aimed to make France an ally in the budgetary battle that opens this week in the debate surrounding the future of the EU's Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). And with the UK's withdrawal from the EU leading to shortfalls in the EU budget, the fight appears to be even more challenging than usual.

MEPs in charge of negotiating the EU’s next seven-year budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), came to Paris to seek France’s support before the start of decisive talks on the future European budget. EURACTIV France reports.

The European Parliament team in charge of negotiating the budget came to plead its case in Paris on Monday (10 February), ahead of a fortnight of talks on the future of EU finances.

The group wants the French government to support an ambitious budget for Europe, despite calls for a tight EU budget coming from Northern European countries led by the Netherlands and Germany – the so-called “New Hanseatic League”.

The Parliament’s two co-rapporteurs, Polish MEP Jan Olbrytch (EPP) and Portuguese MEP Margarida Marques (S&D), Budgets Committee Chair MEP Johan Van Overtveldt (ECR) and the two co-rapporteurs on “own resources”, MEP Valérie Hayer (Renew) and MEP José Manuel Fernandes (EPP), met State Secretary for European Affairs Amélie de Montchalin and members of French President Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet.

The group of MEPs hope to make France an ally in the battle that opens this week on the EU’s future Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021-2027.

And with the UK’s withdrawal from the EU leading to shortfalls in the EU budget, the fight appears to be even more challenging than usual.

MEPs ready to fight against member states on EU budget

The European Parliament will not accept a “take it or leave it” agreement on the EU’s next long term budget (2021-2027), co-rapporteurs Jan Olbrytch and Margarida Marques have told EURACTIV. 

“Now that Brexit is in place, the question is whether we want to keep a European Union at the same level of ambition. And we cannot commit to political priorities without guaranteeing that the budget will follow,” warned MEP Johan Van Overtveldt (ECR).

The parliamentary team came to defend the European Parliament’s proposal that the EU budget for the period 2021-2027 should represent at least 1.3% of the gross national income (GNI) of the 27 EU member states.

This goes beyond the European Commission’s proposal, which had tabled a budget representing 1.11% of the GNI of EU member states in 2018.

“Frugalists” against ” friends of cohesion”

EU member states are divided on the future EU budget. On the one hand, there are the “advocates of frugality” (Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark), who want the EU budget to be capped at 1% of GNI.

On the other, there are the so-called “Friends of Cohesion”, which include Spain, Portugal, Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, whose position is more in line with the Parliament’s. As beneficiaries of EU cohesion policy, they signed a declaration in Portugal on 1 February for an ambitious budget.

In Portugal, 15 'cohesion countries' call for stronger EU budget

Fifteen EU member states insisted on Saturday (1 February) that the EU budget for 2021-2027 should maintain the level of the previous one “in real terms”. EURACTIV’s partner Lusa reports.

“France is somewhere in between the two groups,” said MEP Jan Olbrytch (EPP).

France could, therefore, play a ‘pivotal’ role in this battle, which means that if France rallied to one side or the other, it could tip the balance in the upcoming discussions.

The European Parliament is due to discuss the issue on 12 February at its plenary session, and an extraordinary meeting of the European Council is scheduled for 20 February, so that the 27 EU heads of states and government come up with a compromise.

“We are ready to negotiate with the Council and to negotiate quickly. But based on a reasonable proposal. I do not imagine that this proposal will fall short of what the Commission has proposed,” warned one of the co-rapporteurs in charge of “own resources,” MEP José Manuel Fernandes (EPP).

“We had an interesting conversation with France. The question of the national contribution to the European budget is a sensitive subject, but there are openings on the question of own resources,” said Johan Van Overtveldt.

Some French priorities – such as maintaining the budget for the Common Agricultural Policy, Cohesion Policy and the rapid review of rebates – are also “points of convergence with the Parliament’s position,” continued the Chair of the Budgets Committee.

The parliamentary delegation also met with German EU Affairs Minister Michel Roth. “Germany has a very solid position, but I think that there is still room for manoeuvre,” said MEP Valérie Hayer, who is part of the Renew group in the European Parliament.

The subjects of the solidarity mechanisms in the ecological transition as well as the rule of law could help ease Germany’s position. “Germany could go a step further if the budget is earmarked to finance ‘modern’ policies such as climate or migration,” MEP Margarida Marques (S&D) said.

“Own resources” for EU budget

Among the subjects of discussion were new sources of funding for the EU budget in order to reduce the Union’s dependence on national contributions.

This could take for the form of an EU-wide tax on plastics or a share of proceeds coming from the EU’s carbon market, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

France is very much in favour of so-called “own resources” for the EU budget, but it is still unclear whether those will see the light of day.

Among the possible avenues which could be implemented fast, the EU could adopt an EU-wide tax on non-recycled plastics or on digital activities. But other suggestions such as the border carbon adjustment mechanism will take more time.

The battle of numbers that will shape EU’s future

It might not be the sexiest debate but how the EU will look in the next seven years will depend on the outcome of one of the toughest upcoming fights in 2020: the negotiation over the bloc’s next long-term budget. 

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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