National egos tame Parliament’s ire over EU budget

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The European Parliament will vote tomorrow (13 March) over a resolution on the EU budget for 2014-2020. But as the vote approaches, the common position spelled out by five political groups last week appears to have been undermined by national views opposing the proposed budget “rejection.”

The five leading political groups in the European Parliament, representing the vast majority of MEPs, adopted on 7 March a strong-worded joint ‘Motion for Resolution’, which rejects the long-term budget proposal, as agreed by EU leaders during the 8 February summit, and lists various “essential conditions” for the eventual support of MEPs.

The resolution, which aimed to present a unified front against EU ministers, was introduced by the leaders of the centre-right European Peoples’ Party Joseph Daul, of the Socialists and Democrats group, Hannes Swoboda, of the Liberal ALDE group, Guy Verhofstadt, of the co-presidents of the Green/EFA group Rebecca Harms and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, as well as by the leader of the leftist GUE/NGL group Gabriele Zimmer. 

On Monday (11 March), however, it became clear that the EPP group's internal divisions grew on the wording of the resolution which it says “rejects this agreement in its current form”. As EURACTIV France reported from Strasbourg, a group of German MEPs led by Herbert Reul, the leader of the German MEPs in the EPP group, refused to enter into conflict with Angela Merkel over the budget deal.

Similarly, EURACTIV has learned that the UK Labour Party has departed from the agreed position of the S&D group and aligned itself with the ECR group, where David Cameron’s Conservatives sit.

Polish MEPs have instead found a cross-party agreement on the deal struck by EU leaders, as it is perceived as beneficial to their country.

Indeed, after the summit many leaders returned home, claiming they had won the negotiations.

Now, the ‘Motion for a Resolution’ slams the lack of transparency in the way the agreement was reached at the level of heads of state and government. Council President Herman Van Rompuy has presented national leaders with figures on their national allocations under cohesion or agricultural policies which are not publicly available, sources say.

To reject or not to reject?

The most likely outcome of tomorrow's vote on amendments is that the Parliament will delete the word “reject” from the resolution.

However, even without the term, the resolution highlights that the budget proposed by EU leaders does not reflect the priorities and concerns of the Parliament, and that the EU legislative would only vote on the decisions of the EU summit after “the conclusion of substantial negotiations with the Council”.

The Parliament wants to introduce a legally binding midterm review and more flexibility, which would allow for the spending of all committed amounts to avoid imbalances.

A Parliament source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the 7-8 February European Council initially had spelled out flexibility rules in its conclusions, but that those were then deleted in order to use them as a bargaining chip with MEPs during the negotiations.

“So Parliament will ask it, with the presumption that they will get it 100%,” the source said.

Asked by EURACTIV to comment, Ivailo Kalfin, a Bulgarian MEP with the socialists and deomcrats group and one of the two Parliament rapporteurs on the 2014-2020 budget, insisted that the Parliament could not approve the deal proposed by EU ministers in its current form.

“We expect the Council to respond as quickly as possible to the Parliament’s proposal to open negotiations, with the view of agreeing a text on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) that would be acceptable,” he said.

After the vote, the ball will be in the camp of the Irish Presidency, which will propose a roadmap for negotiations. Negotiations could start in April and be concluded by the summer.

If everything goes well, in autumn the Parliament and Council would need to approve by co-decision some 65 regulations, which represent the legal base of the EU budget.

Before the end of April, the Commission is already expected to present a draft budget for 2014. Most probably, the Commission will introduce a proposal based on the MFF figures agreed, with some conditionality. 

Background

After 26 hours of talks, EU leaders struck a deal on 8 February on the EU's long-term budget, but set themselves on a collision course with the European Parliament, which was preparing to fight off the decision to cut spending.

The EU budget for 2014-2020 is smaller than its predecessor. It goes down to 1% from 1.12% of EU gross national income. It is the first net reduction to the EU budget in history.

>>Read: EU leaders agree budget cuts, MEPs brace for strife and The EU’s 2014-2020 budget in figures

Timeline

  • 13 March: Parliament votes on a resolution on the EU budget 2014-2020
  • 14-15 March: EU summit

Further Reading

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