European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and his Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger received a largely positive reception from MEPs to their proposal for the next long-term EU budget from 2021-2027.
The two Commission chiefs made the short trip from the Berlaymont to Parliament to promote their plan for an increased budget, known as the multiannual financial framework or MFF, to €1.279 trillion, and faced off with MEPs from across the political spectrum during a two hour-long debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday (2 May) afternoon.
Juncker and Oettinger were met with a smattering of praise from different political groups. Several MEPs focused on the Commission’s proposal to create a system of so-called own resources, which they described as a success for the Parliament after years of fighting for such a change to diversify the bloc’s sources of revenue.
The own resources proposal could bring in €22 billion to the EU budget through measures including new taxes on plastics and carbon emissions, and a 3% common consolidated corporate tax base.
MEPs also heaped praise on the Commission for earmarking a drastic increase in funds towards programmes that have been championed by the Parliament, including Erasmus, which will receive €30 billion over the seven-year funding period – double its current rate.
Some legislators had niche interests in the proposal.
A total of €700 million will go towards a project to give out free Interrail train passes. The plan to give all EU citizens free Interrail passes on their 18th birthday is a pet project of Manfred Weber, the German MEP who leads the centre-right European People’s Party, the Parliament’s largest political group.
Ska Keller, the German MEP who leads the Parliament’s Green group, said the Commission’s target for 25% of spending to go towards climate objectives is “certainly a step in the right direction, but it’s a small step.
“We should be at 50%,” Keller said.
Others lashed out at the Commission for slashing funding for the bloc’s common agricultural policy and for cohesion policy aimed to develop European regions.
“Over five years, there will be inadequate direct payments in the common agricultural policy,” said Jean Arthuis, the French Liberal MEP who chairs the Parliament’s budget committee.
“We need to discuss the Commission’s proposed 4% cut in direct payments, 5% cut in agriculture and 7% cut in cohesion,” said José Manuel Fernandes, a Spanish centre-right MEP.
The Commission only met MEPs half-way with its proposal to increase the bloc’s spending cap to 1.1% of the EU gross national income, up from 1%. In March, MEPs approved a resolution calling for the expenditure ceiling to go up to 1.3%.
But national governments—which must approve the draft budget unanimously before it can go into effect—will likely put up a fight against the spending increase.
Only few MEPs criticised the 1.1% compromise directly.
“We would have liked the budget not to be 1.1% but 1.3% of GNI,” Parliament President Antonio Tajani, a member of the centre-right EPP, said. He suggested that MEPs would fight during negotiations to raise the ceiling even higher.
German Socialist MEP Jens Geier described the 1.1% ceiling as ”quite low”. “This 1.1% just covers some of the budget we need after the UK leaves,” Geier said.
Only a handful of MEPs brought up Brexit during the debate. But the estimated €12 billion hole in the bloc’s budget that the UK will leave when it exits the EU has been at the centre of national politicians’ debates. Discussions over the budget in the European Council are set to be more divisive than MEPs’ debate on Wednesday.
Leaders including Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz tweeted their disapproval of the increased budget.
— Lars Løkke Rasmussen (@larsloekke) May 2, 2018
Oettinger appealed to MEPs to defend the budget proposal to their national leaders.
“Here we don’t need unanimity, but we need a majority. But in the Council, where I need to take this [proposal], we need unanimity,” he said during the debate.
“They are starting to draw up restrictions and limitations,” the EU budget chief added.
After a few words of cautious criticism, Tajani was quick to point out positive proposals in the Commission’s budget plan. He called the inclusion of a system for own resources “important” and said it lined up with the Parliament’s demands.
Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian MEP who leads the Parliament’s Liberal group, also praised the increased budget plan and the proposal on own resources.
“This MFF, it’s not a revolution, but its a break with the past,” he said.