European Parliament demands EU budget reform

Isabelle Thomas at a meeting of the European Parliament's budgets committee. [European Parliament]

In a bid to increase the European Union’s budget, MEPs will demand changes to the multiannual financial framework (MFF) in return for supporting the 2017 budget. EURACTIV France reports.

This year’s budget battle between the European Parliament and the Council looks set to be a big one. Members of the Parliament’s budgets committee will this week adopt a resolution, seen by EURACTIV, linking the EU’s 2017 budget with an ambitious reform of the MFF for the period 2017-2020.

Lawmakers clearly want to send a strong message to the Council. The refugee crisis requires significant funds. The Council and Commission have both repeatedly announced that resources would be made available, but somehow the money never seems to appear.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

And when it does, it is often taken from existing programmes. “Horizon 2020 and Connecting Europe have already been pillaged by the Juncker Plan, all we need now is to attack the CAP or Erasmus,” said an irritated Parliament source.

France is already worried about the future of Erasmus+. “France alone needs a further €85 million to meet the demand,” said Lucas Chevalier, a representative of the student exchange programme.

In 2014, the 28 member states cut their EU budget contributions to around €140 billion, far short of the current demand. As a result, all EU programmes have become potential targets for cuts.

But the European Council refuses to reform the budgetary framework, an operation that would expose the depth of the EU’s financial shortfall, for which the member states are 100% responsible. According to EURACTIV’s sources, the Council does not even have a mandate to negotiate this reform, and could only obtain one by resorting to an emergency procedure.

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Operation pay-back

The reform of the 2017-2020 EU budget proposed by the European Commission does show a certain courage. It includes a major accounting clean-up, which involves asking member states to pay back unused European funds.

Funding allocated to member states under the cohesion policy is often not used, either due to a lack of eligible projects or, more often, a lack of competences or parallel investment.

“In theory, this is a good way to get the budget back on track. But we have to ask ourselves the right questions: why are these funds not being used?” said Isabelle Thomas, a French MEP (S&D group) in the budgets committee.

And the cohesion budget will surely not be the only one to be trimmed. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) could also be pinned as a source for funds to meet new demands, in spite of the agricultural crisis that has already forced the Commission to use its usual flexibility funds to provide emergency aid to dairy and meat producers.

This budgetary spring clean would allow for the creation of a “crisis reserve”, avoiding the need for the hybrid solutions used by several other funds, including those for Turkey and Africa.

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Own resources

The resolution, which is due to be voted on at the Parliament’s plenary session on 25 October, “regrets that the Commission has not proposed an increase to the current limits of the multiannual financial framework” and insists that “the European budget must correspond to [the EU’s] political commitments and strategic objectives”.

Once again, this problem raises the question of own resources, which would give the EU the funds it needs without contributions from the member states. Taxes on multinationals, financial transactions or the carbon footprint of imported goods are all possible solutions, though none will be simple to implement.

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