Freezing the European Union's budget as demanded by some countries would be "very dangerous" as the EU needs greater investments to overcome the economic crisis, said European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek in an exclusive interview with EURACTIV.
The 27-country bloc has to regain competitiveness by massively investing in new technologies, innovation and new ideas, said the former Polish prime minister.
"Structural funds are the main instrument to relaunch competitiveness," said Buzek, an MEP from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP).
According to the former Polish premier, there is widespread agreement that agricultural policy, which for decades has absorbed much of the EU budget, has to be amended.
"We should spend more money on research and development policy and new technologies," he said, referring to information and communication technologies (ICT), but also to clean energies.
The Lisbon Treaty and the EU's new long-term strategy, 'Europe 2020', have given the Union more responsibilities and the European Parliament will fight to get the additional resources it needs to fulfill them, said Buzek.
One year before the end of his mandate, the European Parliament is gearing up for a fight on the EU's next long-term budget for 2014-2020.
The Parliament's Liberal group (ALDE) has already tabled a few proposals on how to streamline the EU budget, including downsizing the number of EU institutions.
But Buzek recalls that 95% of the EU budget is used for boosting the economy and only 5% is allocated for administrative costs. "We spend funds on investments, such as the digital agenda, energy [and] transport to unlock the potential of all European regions," he noted.
Scrapping the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions as the Liberals suggest would be counter-productive, he said. According to the president, citizens need to understand the European Union's internal functioning. "We need communication as close as possible to the people and their needs," he said, explaining that the two committees serve exactly that purpose.
Hands off Strasbourg
Asked whether he would be in favour of discontinuing the European Parliament's monthly commute to Strasbourg to save a few million, he argued against the idea.
"Strasbourg is a symbolic place. Symbols are important. We can also ask whether for some member states it is right to keep a monarchy. But for these countries that has an historical meaning and it is still an important part of public life and interest," he said, adding that the French headquarters of the European Parliament represents the essence of the EU's core value: solidarity.
Asked whether solidarity was evolving in the EU following bailouts to rescue Greece and Ireland, Buzek said only the conditions in which solidarity operates were changing.
"We need to connect solidarity with responsibility […] The individual responsibility of every member state is necessary as much as the individual responsibility of every citizen," he argued.
National parliaments and 2014
When Buzek was elected president of the European Parliament, he emphasised the role of national parliaments in the new EU decision-making process, which was strengthened by the Lisbon Treaty.
At the time, he promised his mandate would smoothen relations between the European Parliament and the 27 national assemblies across Europe. Eighteen months later he argues that much more inter-parliamentary exchange has been taking place, despite the lack of new institutional processes.
However, he agrees that communication needs an additional layer to bridge the perceived democratic gap between citizens and the EU institutions. "The message must be clear, that's the task of the politician. But we need a good messenger to deliver it and that rests in your hands," he said, underlining the role of the European media.
"The cost of non-Europe is far greater than the cost of Europe," he added.