Parliament puts its trust in Michel for progress on EU budget

European Council president Charles Michel during a visit to Paris to meet French president Emmanuel Macron. [European Union]

As European Council president Charles Michel takes over the negotiations on the EU’s long-term budget, the Parliament hopes this will give a new impetus to the slow-moving talks, lawmakers in charge told a press briefing on Wednesday (11 December).

“For us, the statement Michel made in Paris is very positive. I don’t mean necessarily the content but his commitment as a leader to find an agreement,” said Margarida Marques, co-rapporteur of the European Parliament on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).

“Charles Michel’s commitment is very positive, meaning, swinging to action to find a deal,” she added. As he speaks about “innovative proposals,” Marques added, “we count on the imagination of the negotiators to achieve progress.”

However, a diplomatic source described the inclusion of a paragraph regarding the EU budget negotiation in the Council conclusion as “merely procedural.”

The aim is not to close an agreement “but for the leaders to have an honest and frank debate and to understand each other and listen to each other’s views,” an EU source admitted.

Leaders had already held a preliminary discussion on substance during the October European Council. “The major difference with last time is that this time, there will be figures,” the same EU source pointed out.

Michel will present the leaders with a potential calendar and he intends to speed up technical and political consultations to find the basis of a compromise to be reached as soon as possible in 2020.

“Lots of things have to be put in place but as long as we do not have the money, we can’t move forward,” EU sources added.

Climate money

Ahead of the working dinner on the EU budget, the EU27 are expected to confirm their commitment to achieving climate neutrality by 2050. Only three member states, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, are still reluctant to do so.

“No one contests in the EU that we need to tackle climate change as a priority,” a diplomatic source pointed out. However, certain member states say they need further economic and technical support to achieve that goal.

“Therefore they want to link this discussion to the MFF,” the same source added.

Member states fear that the climate neutrality question could hijack the already complex negotiation on the EU long-term budget.

Climate neutrality represents “a long-terms societal change” whereas the MFF is just a 7-year blueprint “and won’t solve climate change alone,” an EU diplomat argued.  

Von der Leyen criticises Finnish presidency’s EU budget proposal

The new European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, did not mince her words at her first press conference on Wednesday (4 December), criticising a recent proposal of the Finnish EU Presidency for the bloc’s 2021-2027 budget and voicing concern “about the severe cuts in the proposal”.

The Finish proposal

So far, three Council presidencies – Austria, Romania and now Finland – have failed to reach an agreement at the Council on the size and distribution of the next EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).

Member states are heavily divided on how large the pot should be. While countries such as the Netherlands or Austria are not willing to go beyond 1% GNI, others such as France, Spain or Portugal believes not even the 1.1% proposed by the Commission is not ambitious enough.

The Finish presidency proposal, 1.07%, has therefore been rejected by both parties. While for some “it is still too high,” for others it is insufficient to achieve the goals the EU has set for the next 7 years.

The European Parliament did not appreciate the Finish proposal either. First, because they consider that the size is “clearly insufficient,” and second because the paper includes provisions that are subject to co-decision.

EU lawmakers warned the Finish presidency about that “because what you proposed to member states is under discussion with the Parliament,” warned Jan Olbrytch, co-rapporteur of the MFF.

“You cannot promise something that is not done,” he stressed.

Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman, whose country takes over the presidency from Finland in January, told EURACTIV Zagreb was “not quite happy with the Finnish proposal so Croatia will, together with the others, try to come up with a new one. I believe there is room to improve the Finnish proposal.”

Worries on timing

The European Parliament worries that a deal on the EU’s blueprint will be further delayed making almost impossible to get everything ready by 2021. As the chamber re-confirmed its position back in October, they blame the Council for the lack of progress.

“This week could have been decisive. We have the feeling that this has been a lost week,” Margarida Marques said, “there has been no progress and we are at the end of 2019,” she regretted.

Olbrycht recalled that while the piece of legislation stating the budget has to be agreed through unanimity by member states and then confirmed by the Parliament in a consent vote, the regulation regarding all the different programmes is a matter of co-decision.

“All sectorial reports (Cohesion Policy, Horizon 2020…), they are connected to the MFF directly because the question is not only how much money there will be in the program but also the rules on the implementation,” the EPP MEP explained.

As long as there is no agreement on the final figure, the Council has expressed no willingness to progress on the negotiation regarding these pieces of legislation.

“The proposal cannot be finalised without an MFF resolution,” Olbrycht insisted. “When this would take place, it is very hard to know.”

A diplomatic source admitted that the negotiations at the Council are far from over and strongly criticised the Finish proposal, “which reflects the interest of the country they know best.”

However, the same source there could be an extraordinary European Council in February, where agreement could be reached, just before deadline the Parliament has given to ensure that the new EU budget is ready to kick in in January 2021.

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. 

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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