In the hope of winning over sceptical national governments, the European Parliament has proposed setting up an inter-parliamentary assembly to define the EU's spending priorities for the period 2014-2020.
Unveiling the proposal yesterday (30 June), MEP Alain Lamassoure (European People's Party; France), who chairs the Parliament's budget committee, likened the initiative to the Convention for the European Constitution, which he said had managed to transform national blockage into European consensus.
The European Convention, which was made up of 102 representatives from the national parliaments of EU member states and candidate countries, met between 2001 and 2003. It famously produced a draft for a European Constitution, which was later rejected by popular referenda in France and the Netherlands in 2005.
Lamassoure said he was optimistic that consensus could again be achieved on the basis of "a real debate" organised over "sufficient time", with the participation of EU institutions, national governments and parliaments.
The former French Europe and budget minister insisted that opposition from national parliaments should be part of the exercise.
Lamassoure said consultations to launch the convention would start as soon as next week, when the Parliament holds its session in Strasbourg, adding that the Polish Presidency wanted to play an active role as coordinator.
Political parties in show of unity
Lamassoure indicated that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk wanted to launch the initiative in Warsaw under the Polish EU Presidency, which starts on 1 July for a six-month period.
The chair of the Parliament's budget committee applauded the Commission's budget proposal. So did the leader of the liberal ALDE group, Guy Verhofstadt, who was speaking alongside Lamassoure at a press conference announcing the initiative.
The press event was designed to display the unity of the Parliament's major political groups, with Socialist MEP Jutta Haug (Germany) also listed as a speaker although she was unable to appear for logistical reasons.
Verhofstadt said the Parliament was "very pleased" with the Commission's proposal for the EU's 2014-2020 budget. "We think that the Commission has got this time the courage to present a coherent – radical also, ambitious in a certain sense – proposal for the period 2013-2020," he said.
He expressed satisfaction that his ideas, presented earlier in a paper entitled 'Europe for growth' and co-signed by Lamassoure and Haug, had been heeded.
In particular, he supported a proposed increase of so-called 'own resources' in the EU budget, from 20% at present to 60% in 2018, as well as greater flexibility for Brussels on how money can be used.
Asked by EURACTIV about the next steps, Lamassoure said the Parliament's political group leaders had met with the Commission on Wednesday and agreed to jointly ask the Polish Presidency to organise the Convention-type conference on the EU budget.
Commission President José Manuel Barroso was in Warsaw on Thursday to meet Prime Minister Donald Tusk for the official start of the Polish EU Presidency.
Both Tusk and his European affairs minister, Miko?aj Dowgielewicz, have a "positive attitude" to hosting the event, Verhofstadt said.