Parliament to use secret ballot in vote on EU budget

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The European Parliament will vote by secret ballot on the EU's 2014-2020 budget, its centre-left President Martin Schulz and Joseph Daul, the leader of the centre-right European People’s Party, said yesterday (7 February).

Schulz, speaking at a late-night news conference, confirmed Daul's earlier statement that the use of the special procedure was planned.

Under parliamentary procedures, one-fifth of MEPs can request the Parliament hold a secret ballot instead of have their votes recorded. The vote is expected within three months, as some 80 legislative acts accompanying the EU budget should be prepared in the meantime.

EURACTIV understands that the unusual procedure is aimed at preventing national governments from bullying MEPs by threatening to expose their votes.

Schulz told EU leaders that an eventual agreement would not be an “end point” but a “basis for negotiations” with the Parliament for introducing more flexibility into the EU budget.

“Just like any member state, the EU needs to be able to respond quickly to changing economic and political circumstances. Let me give you one example: if we keep to our rigid approach we will not be able to respond effectively to unexpected events, such as those currently unfolding in Mali,” Schulz said.

He also argued that it would be unfair to present a seven-year spending plan that would bequeath to the next Commission and Parliament budgets much lower than the ones available at present.

Flexibility as the paramount priority

Schulz said that such an approach had nothing to do with planning certainty.

“What we are actually doing is ignoring a problem which calls for an immediate, flexible response. I would also point out that the financial framework would cover a time span during which at least one member state has said that it may leave the European Union,” he told EU leaders.

He argued for the need of flexibility between expenditure categories and financial years as well as introducing a legally binding revision clause, which, like the flexibility arrangements, could be adopted by  qualified-majority voting. Up to now, amending budgets have been subject to majority vote.

Schulz also warned that as it stood, the proposed budget by Council President Herman Van Rompuy could create growing deficit, which would be completely impossible to handle by 2020.

He explained that Van Rompuy had given up to the UK approach which saw as legally binding only the payment ceilings, not the commitments. He said that payments over the period to 2020 would effectively be frozen at the level of the 2011 budget. This, he said, was amounting to massive real cuts. With regards commitments, he explained that in 2020 the same ceiling would still apply as in 2005.

Schulz told reporters he was not going to “sign” such an agreement, unless flexibility which would be able to deal with rolling deficits is introduced. He repeated that he saw the eventual agreement on the budget not as an end point, but as the beginning of negotiations with the European Parliament. 

In Parliament, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group said it was opposed to holding a secret ballot, arguing that MEPs would be making "a highly cynical and unaccountable act".

"MEPs should have courage of their convictions on EU budget and not hide behind a secret ballot," the ECR said in a statement.

Martin Callanan MEP, leader of the ECR, added: "This kind of behaviour brings the EU and politicians into disrepute. My group will argue for a Roll Call Vote on any deal reached so that all MEPs can stand on the doorsteps in their constituencies and explain why they cannot support their Prime Minister."

EU leaders were meeting in Brussels on 7-8 February to forge a deal on the Union's 2014-2020 budget.

Diplomats have pointed out that it was “now or never” for heads of state and government to agree ahead of multiple elections in 2013. [more]

The European parliament has 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.

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