EU budget post 2020: Fortress Europe or a budget for working people?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

European Palriament President Antonio Tajani, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Estonian PM Juri Ratas, show copies of the European Pillar of Social Rights during an EU Social Summit in Gothenburg, Sweden on 17 November 2017. [EPA-EFE/Szilard Koszticsak]

One of the key points of the informal summit in Brussels on 23 February is the debate on the EU’s post-2020 long-term budget. However, the topics to be debated on the matter are limited and do not take into account the Pillar of Social Rights, writes Thiébaut Weber.

Thiébaut Weber is the confederal secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

Today’s informal meeting of EU heads of state or government kicks off a debate on the priorities for the EU’s next multiannual budget after 2020.

Known as the MFF – Multi-Annual Financial Framework – its sets out EU spending plans for a period of seven years. It’s only 2% of total public spending in the EU – the vast majority being national and local government spending – but it still makes a difference.

The problem is that the debate is supposed to be based on a European Commission document published last week with the dull title “A new, modern Multiannual Financial Framework for a European Union that delivers efficiently on its priorities post-2020”.

Who could disagree with the sentiment of delivering priorities efficiently? But even a cursory examination of its contents reveals a very limited and biased set of options for discussion. Not a good basis for kicking off the debate.

The first two options are the management of the EU’s external borders and defence. Here, the options are status quo or various increases in the budget. When it eventually comes to a major item of current spending – cohesion policy – the options are status quo or reducing the budget. No option for increasing spending. Why not?

The ETUC fought hard to get the recently adopted European Pillar of Social Rights over the line and is astonished that just three months after its proclamation by EU leaders, this important initiative is not deemed worthy of any option for spending to implement it – other than increasing the budget for Erasmus+.

More budget for the excellent Erasmus programme is good, but the Pillar of Social Rights is far more than mobility! Funding for the Pillar as a whole is not seriously addressed at all. There is a good case for setting aside at least 30% of cohesion funds for the European Social Fund to finance it. Why is that not an option in the Commission’s paper?

Digitalisation – a major challenge – is rightly mentioned, but the need to manage change to avoid job losses is ignoredThere are no options presented for climate action – let alone for ensuring that workers and industrial regions are not left behind on the way to a low or no-carbon economy.

Why not a European transition fund to tackle the effects of structural changes of the economy – digitalisation, automation, decarbonisation, globalization- and support workers facing these transitions?

The ETUC believes that three important commitments – the European Pillar of Social Rights, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement – should be at the centre of any intelligent budget debate.

They represent three issues – rights, sustainable development and tackling climate change – that are crucial for the future lives of working people.

So, dear prime ministers, presidents and chancellors, don’t be led into a debate on paying for fortress Europe – let‘s discuss a budget for working people.

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