MEPs warn of possible higher budget cuts, impact on policies

Jan Olbrycht (EPP) and Isabelle Thomas (S&D), European Parliament's co-rapporteurs on MFF. [Benoit Bourgeois/European Parliament]

The proposed expenditure cuts in Common Agriculture and Cohesion Policy in the next long-term EU budget are higher than what the European Commission announced and this might impact future EU policies, the European Parliament’s budget rapporteurs told reporters on Wednesday (23 May).

Members of the European Parliament are upset. According to a preliminary assessment of the Commission draft proposal for a new long-term budget, cuts will be around 15% in agriculture and 10% in cohesion. When addressing the Parliament on 2 May, Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger announced spending cuts of 5% and 7% respectively.

The Parliament argues the gap is due to different reasons. While the Commission compares the previous and the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) by using current prices, the Parliament does it in constant prices. Moreover, the Commission deducts from the 2014-2020 amounts the expenditure made in the UK.

The Parliament argues that “while this is understandable in policy areas based on pre-allocated national envelopes (cohesion, agriculture, fisheries), such a deduction may not be fully justified when dealing with genuine EU-wide programmes such as research, or Erasmus”.

Furthermore, MEPs complain that some information related to financial changes to the current programmes, which might affect the actual size of the cuts, is still missing.

In its preliminary analysis, the Parliament argues that “assuming that actual variations between the 2014-2020 MFF and the new 2021-2027 proposals should be assessed in real terms (constant prices) and without systematic deduction of UK expenditure, cuts are larger than announced in cohesion and agriculture, and reinforcements are smaller notably in research and education”.

The numbers do not match what has been presented by the European Commission, Jan Olbrycht (EPP), Parliament’s co-rapporteur for the MFF, underlined. “We cannot start a discussion with incorrect figures,” co-rapporteur Isabelle Thomas (S&D) stated.

MEPs worry that the reduction could go up to 45% in Cohesion Fund and more than 25% in rural development, which would have a major impact in some member states. “This is not a technicality, it is a change of policy”, Olbrycht stressed.

Parliament’s assessment also highlights that the reinforcement for research (around 13% compared to 50%) and Erasmus+ (77% and not doubling) is smaller than announced.

Both co-rapporteurs ask the Commission to provide further information to clarify this major gap. “The Commission proposal is a nice story but it is not a true story,” Isabelle Thomas said. “A narrative is not a budget”, she insisted.

Coordinators of the EPP and the S&D groups are working towards a resolution for the upcoming plenary session in Strasbourg. They hope to get on board ALDE and the Greens too. Whether the text will “welcome” the Commission proposal or “note” its presentation will depend on the reaction by the EU executive to their demand for information.

In any case, the co-rapporteurs did not hide their discontent with the current proposal and still back the need for the national contribution to reach the 1.3% of the GNI compared to the 1.1% put on the table by the Commission.

CoR already warned

The Parliament has not been the first to point out that the discrepancies in the budget proposal. The Committee of the Regions (CoR) also warned that cuts could reach nearly 15% in the rural development 10% in cohesion.

“The proposal to cut by 10% or even more cohesion funding downsizes the only EU policy that brings true European added-value to regions and cities. Excluding regional and local communities from having a direct say on EU investment plan and decisions, coupled with separating tools and cuts to regional policy, risks seriously undermining the cohesion of Europe over the next decade”,  the CoR’s President Karl-Heinz Lambertz said.

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