Only Cameron’s Conservatives defend budget deal in EU Parliament


The first debate held yesterday (18 February) in the European Parliament since EU leaders agreed a budget for 2014-2020 showed widespread opposition to the deal from major political groups. Only the European Conservatives and Reformists group hailed the deal, which needs approval of the Parliament.

EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy and Commission President José Manuel Barroso tested the waters, meeting MEPs for the first time since EU leaders agreed on the 2014-2020 budget at the 7-8 February summit.

Van Rompuy and Barroso discussed with a Parliament’s vice president and leaders of the political groups. Parliament Vice President Gianni Pittella (S&D, Italy) stood in for President Martin Schulz, who was sick.

Van Rompuy insisted that in spite of the cuts, the budget proposal was “a good deal for Europe as a whole”.

He said that clear priorities had been set, with more available to invest in growth and employment.

Barroso said that the Commission would have preferred an outcome with “more ambition for Europe”. However, he saw the positive results of having funds for transport increase from €8.5 billion in the current period to more than €24 billion in the next period, that €5 billion would be invested in energy infrastructure at the European level, and that €6 billion would be allocated for the Youth Employment Initiative.

Conservative support

European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group leader Martin Callanan called on MEPs to avoid going to war with national governments over the Union’s budget.

Callanan said that the deal reached was “not perfect”, saying French President François Hollande refused to allow the 'crazy' amounts spent on French agriculture to be redirected to pro-growth areas of the budget. However, he called on other groups to back the compromise, and he spoke out against plans for a secret ballot of MEPs.

Callanan, who was alone in backing the deal amid strong parliamentary opposition, also said British Prime Minister David Cameron had “many friends” pushing for cuts in the EU budget of better spending in the Council. He referred to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt from the EPP, and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a Socialist.

"The Greens of course have no Prime Ministers but we should all be grateful for that,” he said.

Strong opposition

But leaders of the major political groups denounced the deal.

Joseph Daul, president of the centre-right EPP group, called the budget proposal “unacceptable”. The deal is a “proposal” to be negotiated with the Parliament, he said, and asked for the detailed numbers.

The budget deal as published on the Council website contains total numbers for differing categories, but few breakdowns.

The leader of the Socialists and Democrats group, Hannes Swoboda, said the deal had no support in Parliament. He added that it was not possible to have “big priorities with small amounts,” giving as an example the Youth Guarantee which he said could not be financed with only €6 billion, and slamming the funds for the Digital agenda which were slashed from €9.2 billion in the Commission’s proposal to €1 billion.

Swoboda said the proposal is the wrong one for a Europe mired in financial and economic problems, adding it would result in seven years of austerity.

“In the present state, we have to say no to this budget. We have to have substantial negotiations, and only then will you have our support,” Swoboda told Van Rompuy and Barroso.

Sunset clause

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal ALDE group, said that the agreed deal was a “budget for less Europe, not more Europe”. He spoke in particular about the risk of rolling deficit.

“In 2006, the outstanding commitments represented €130 billion which will rise to at least €230 billion in 2013, and with this MFF it could increase to over €300 billion! Officially, we have no debt as this is prohibited by the treaty, but in reality, you are creating a debt of €300 billion,” he said.

Verhofstadt said this was not a budget the Parliament could accept, unless it was subject to a “sunset clause” whereby it would expire on a certain date unless re-authorised by the Parliament.

Parliament Vice President Isabelle Durant (Greens/EFA, Belgium) went further, saying that the delegates would press for annual budgets for 2013 and 2014, and asked for a new budget to be negotiated after the EU elections in 2014.

Responding to the criticism, Van Rompuy said it would be unfair to cast a division among EU leaders as “the good” and “the bad” Europeans. He also argued that with a budget of only 1% of the Union’s GDP it was not possible to solve all of the problems of the EU.

MEP Ivailo Kalfin (S&D, Bulgaria), who is also vice president of the Budget Committee, told Van Rompuy and Barroso that what they achieved was only to find “the minimum common denominator”.

“This happened strangely to be liked by some circles that would like to strangle European policies before their country leaves the European Union."

Kalfin said that the Union spent in 2010 between 60% and 100% less on research and development that Japan, South Korea, USA and Israel. According to the proposed EU budget, the Union would spend even less on R&D, while those countries will spend even more, he argued.

“So we are not able to say that the EU budget is going to be increased and that we are going to catch up these countries. It’s not possible,” he said.

After 26 hours of talks, EU leaders struck a buget deal on 8 February but set themselves on a collision course with Parliament, which is 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

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