French President François Hollande positioned himself as a promoter of growth and solidarity and tried to woo MEPs on the EU's long-term budget as he spoke to the European Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday (5 February). EURACTIV France reports.
In an unusual move, Hollande went to Strasbourg to debate with MEPs ahead of the 7-8 February summit, which will seek a compromise on the EU's 2014-2020 budget.
France ready to accept lower funding from CAP?
Hollande posed as a defender of growth and European solidarity. He objected to the northern states of Europe – Germany and the United Kingdom in particular – which are fighting for cuts to the European budget, in line with their national austerity policies.
Speaking in defence of European solidarity, Hollande reaffirmed his position against the UK rebate.
"The amount of rebate cheques must end," he stressed, adding that "a compromise is possible" but that "it will be necessary to bring to reason those who want to amputate the EU budget beyond what is possible".
Like other countries, France has sought to defend its interests and is fighting to preserve the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which benefits it the most. As the leader of the Green/EFA group, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, put it: "CAP is the French rebate”.
In what could be a breakthrough, Hollande suggested that Paris would be ready to accept a reduction in the CAP budget for 2014-2020.
"France is not ready to sacrifice growth policy for the Common Agricultural Policy," the French president said, suggesting both were equally important.
Where is the Growth Pact?
Hollande pointed out that redressing public finances was possible only on the basis of a revival of industrial activity and public investment.
However, many MEPs were left perplexed by the European Growth Pact, which Hollande negotiated in June, and which mainly consists of funding from the European Investment Bank and the EU’s structural funds.
"I'm looking very hard to find them … Where are those billions?”, said Joseph Daul, the leader of the centre-right European People's Party. The same question was echoed by Cohn-Bendit, reflecting a view widely shared across party lines.
The next budget 2014-2020 and its structural funds will be the main tool to support European growth, Hollande stressed. But he omitted to say that these are instruments that would have been mobilised anyway, with or without the Growth Pact.
"I heard the European Parliament express the wish there should be a proper level of expenditure … I feel accountable to the Pact adopted in June," Hollande said, confirming the impression that he relies on expenditure already planned, presenting it as a new stimulus plan.
€100 billion less
While the French discourse on the budget sounds different from that of Germany’s, the numbers both countries have in mind are very close. "If we think that the priority is to preserve the common policies, we can have €960 billion," he said.
This amount corresponds to the German proposal, which circulated before the 22-23 November EU summit. That is to say, €13 billion less than the €973 billion proposed by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. And more than €100 billion less compared to the original text of the Commission.
MEPs have thus played the role of defenders of a Union that must give itself the means for its ambitions. Under the Lisbon Treaty, MEPs now have the opportunity to approve or reject the EU budget adopted by EU heads of state and government as a whole.
Slamming the ridiculous budget proposal, MEPs have threatened to veto the eventual agreement and expressed a preference for the EU to work on the principle of monthly payments per year for two years, to the level of the 2013 budget, pending a settlement of the crisis.
"The current proposal is a renunciation of politics, and I'm telling you right now, we will reject it, Mr. President," Daul said.
"After the speech of Joseph Daul, I wonder that you will still discuss on Thursday and Friday,” said the leader of the liberal ALDE group, Guy Verhofstadt.
"We cannot find a compromise for the multi-year budget," Cohn-Bendit stated.
"Our answer too is no", French Socialist MEP Catherine Trautmann said, regretting the lack of solidarity in the proposals.
If the votes of the eurosceptic and anti-European MEPs were added, it appears that the budget could be shelved.
Parliament to make U-turn ?
The French president, however, positioned himself as an ally of the European Parliament, considering that its position was "not so distant" from his own views.
Hollande even said that the threat of veto wielded by the Parliament could be a "positive factor” for making EU heads of state and government better aware of the stakes.
"Sometimes at the table of the Council, I hear that we would play a trick on the political groups of the European Parliament, Hollande said. I believe that this will not be the case this time,” he added.
Used to hearing Parliament barking without biting, EU heads of state and government risk this time not to take the threat seriously, EURACTIV France concludes its article.