European Union lawmakers and the EU’s 28 member states have reached a preliminary deal on next year’s budget, on condition that the bloc’s executive Commission finds a way to pay off unpaid bills totalling more than €20 billion.
“Parliament’s negotiators agreed to the 2015 budget on condition that the Commission presents a plan to reduce the amount of the unpaid bills to a sustainable level by 2016,” the legislature said in a statement.
Lawmakers said on Monday (8 December) that it was now up to the European Commission to take action to reduce the mountain of unpaid bills, which jumped to €23.4 billion at the start of this year from €5 billion in 2010.
Both sides reached an impasse last month after EU governments rejected a demand from the European Parliament to use windfall antitrust fines to pay down the bills.
Governments have long battled with the European Parliament to hold down EU spending, which accounts for only about 2% of all public expenditure across the bloc. The bulk of the funds are used to support farmers and underdeveloped regions.
But without a top-up, Parliament negotiators warned unpaid bills would rise further, threatening an eventual collapse of the budget.
“The winding down of a pile of unpaid bills has been Parliament’s quintessential goal. We cannot go on rolling invoices over from year to year due to a lack of resources, just watching as cash-strapped contractors suffer and the EU loses its credibility as a reliable partner,” said French MEP Jean Arthuis, the chair of the Parliament’s budget committee who led the talks for the EU Assembly.
More funds for education and research
The two sides agreed to a total of €141.2 billion in European spending next year.
Parliament negotiators obtained €45 million more for the EU research and development programme Horizon 2020, and €16 million more for the student exchange programme Erasmus+. For foreign policy, the budget was increased by €32 million. Banking supervisory agencies and Frontex also received more funding, the Parliament said in a statement.
“We know member states’ difficulties, but it was the member states themselves which agreed to enter into contracts that need to be paid. The bills of the EU are also part of their debt,” Arthuis said.
Formal approval of the deal is scheduled at a Parliamentary session between 15 and 18 December.