The European Parliament laid down funding priorities for the next long-term EU budget on Tuesday (13 November) and urged the Council to agree on a common position so that talks be completed before next May. But differences still remain about the level of member states’ contributions.
The plenary approved the report that set up the Parliament’s position for the negotiation of the 2021-2027 budget with 429 votes in favour, 207 against and 40 abstentions.
“The European Parliament is ready to negotiate; we are ready to act quickly and to finish our work on time,” co-rapporteur Jan Olbrycht (EPP) said during the debate ahead of the vote in Strasbourg.
The Parliament insisted on the need to close a deal on the 7-years budget before the next European elections in May 2019 in order to build trust and certainty for European citizens.
The new financial plan, MEP Jean Arthuis (ALDE) argued, should tell the citizens that the EU has the means to meet their expectations, prepare for the future and protect them.
“All we need it is agreement with the Council,” Arthuis insisted.
The Parliament wants a deal not only because the result of the next elections is unpredictable given the rise of far-right populist parties, but to ensure continuity for the ongoing EU-funded projects.
“Programmes such as Erasmus Plus, direct payments to farmers, support for SMEs, support for researchers, innovation, our regions, social cohesion, territorial cohesion… are in danger” if the budget is not ready on time, MEP José Manuel Fernandes (EPP) warned.
“We have done our job. We are ready. The Parliament is ready. I am not sure the Council is ready,” Fernandes stressed.
The Council under pressure
The Commissioner for Budget, Günther Oettinger, praised the Parliament’s work to reach a common position so quickly. “We can get down to the real politics of the negotiation and bring about some concrete results now,” Oettinger underlined.
However, the Council does not seem to be keen on rushing to the negotiating table just yet.
Karoline Edtstadler, an interior ministry state secretary in Austria, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, warned the Parliament that although ministers discuss the budget regularly, “it is increasingly clear that it will take time to finalise the Council position.”
“It is no secret that some elements are so sensitive that they will require guidance at the highest level,” Edtstadler said.
The Austrian presidency is preparing a report on the state of play of the discussions within the Council for the next European summit in December, where prime ministers and presidents will discuss the next budgetary plan.
Oettinger insisted the EU’s spending plan should be as important as tackling migration or dealing with Brexit for member states. However, a breakthrough is not expected during the winter European Council.
“It will be a difficult discussion and difficult compromises will be needed at the end,” the Austrian secretary of state insisted.
Austria, together with the Netherlands Sweden, Denmark or Finland, has been very critical on the Commission proposal for a new budget that goes up to 1.11% of the EU27’s gross national income (GNI). The Parliament proposed to raise it to 1.3%.
The European Parliament presented its proposal for a new long-term budget in March this year, two months before the Commission drafted its own text, and its position has barely changed since then.
The EU executive proposed a ceiling of €1.3 trillion in its blueprint for the bloc’s next long-term budget, equivalent to around 1.14% of the EU’s gross national income.
The text approved on Tuesday by a large majority confirmed the Parliament’s proposal to go up to 1.3% of GNI. Several member states, on the contrary, think the budget should be reduced even further after Brexit.
“Of all the Council meetings that I have attended, I can’t imagine that 1.3 will be the result,” Oettinger warned.
“We can keep on talking to the camera about the advantages of the Union but if we deprive it of funds, how we can expect it to be successful?” underlined the Social Democrat co-rapporteur Isabel Thomas.
The UK has been traditionally opposed to the development of the EU’s own resources, so its departure creates a window opportunity, which the Parliament wants to use.
The Chamber proposed taxing digital giants, financial transactions or introducing a plastic tax. This way, MEP argued, the burden will not be on taxpayers but on those who do not yet pay the appropriate amount of taxes.
The Parliament agreed with the Commission on the need to fund new priorities in the next account exercise such as migration, security or the fight against climate change.
However, it refused to do so by reducing the allocated funds for traditional policies, namely, Common Agricultural Policy and Cohesion, for which cuts of up to 5% and 7% respectively are expected and therefore asked to leave the funding for them unchanged.
The Parliament demanded a more ambitious budget by proposing to double the resources for tackling youth unemployment and triple the resources for Erasmus+ or boosting the investment plan and the support for SMEs.
“Additional resources need to be devoted to boosting investment in the real economy. We want to develop modern European infrastructure and support EU industry,” President Antonio Tajani insisted.
The Chamber also insisted that the EU’s contribution to the climate objectives should go up to 30% of the expenditure by 2027.
“We need to use the budget to persuade the European citizens that we can deliver because we’ve got policies that are beneficial for them,” said Helga Trüpel (Greens/EFA).
“Paraphrasing Magritte, this is not a debate on the EU budget but on the future of Europe,” Daniele Viotti (S&D) said.