Oettinger wants ‘pact’ between net payers and net recipients

Günther Oettinger, European Commissioner for Budget, speaks at the opening of a conference held at Romanian Central Bank headquarters, dedicated to the 10th anniversary of Romania joining European Union, in Bucharest, Romania, 26 October 2017. [Robert Ghement/EPA/EFE]

European Commissioner for the Budget Günther Oettinger arrives in Sofia on Friday (27 October), as part of a tour opening the debate on future EU finances.

The future long-term EU budget, after 2020, cannot count on Britain’s contribution, so the EU will have to “fund more with less”.

“Less”, because as the UK is a net contributor, Brexit will deplete the EU budget by at least €10 billion per year.

“More”, because answering the concerns of its citizens, the EU is expected to spend more in areas such as migration, security and in particular the fight against terrorism, but also defence, in the context of the greater emancipation of Europe from a less predictable US ally. There is little doubt that the EU will try to preserve its role on the global stage as major humanitarian and development aid donor and as a leader in the fight against climate change.

The reflection is based on the “five scenarios” presented by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and his “sixth scenario”, which is bridging the growing gap between the EU and its citizens.

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Bulgaria and Romania, where Oettinger spent Thursday, are concerned that they would no longer receive generous cohesion funding, and that more philosophically, cohesion and solidarity are no longer fashionable. These two countries may be the poorest in the EU, but they have kept their distance from the Visegrad group, which indeed have made no show of solidarity in the context of the refugee crisis.

Before leaving for Romania, Oettinger published a blogpost titled “A new deal between net payers and net contributors”, which may not be to the taste of Bucharest and Sofia.

Firstly, the German Commissioner introduces a notion of “us and them”: net payers and net contributors. Secondly, Oettinger introduces a new conditionality. He wrote:

“What I am proposing to net beneficiaries and net payers goes much beyond this, it is a new deal. It is a give and take on both sides: net payers would pay a little more into the EU pot for the guarantee that every single euro paid is spent efficiently and has an added value. Net beneficiaries by contrast, would have to accept more control over their structural projects in exchange for avoiding drastic cuts. One of the mechanisms by which this could work is conditionality. It means that structural funds are more aligned with structural reforms the EU wants the member states to carry out.”

Incidentally, Bulgaria is one of the EU countries best-equipped to discuss the future of the EU budget, as Ivailo Kalfin, as member of the Monti Group on the future of the EU budget, is on top of things. By the way, Kalfin is also a special adviser to Oettinger.

And as part of the Monti group Kalfin has a different vision with regard to the future of the EU budget. In a nutshell, the 100-page Monti Group report criticises the current budgeting system, with all its exceptions, rebates, different sources of funding and dependence on national budgets. The Monti Group believes that the objective of a future reform should be to finance the majority of EU expenditure via genuine own resources.

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But Sofia has no plan to hold intellectual discussions. Oettinger is received as a head of state. Whatever the ideas in Brussels are, Bulgaria is not expected to be a troublemaker in the talks on the future long-term EU budget. As Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov says, “the big bosses will decide”.

Asked if the proposed pact between net payers and net contributors doesn’t introduce a two-speed of multi-level EU, Commission spokesperson Alexander Winterstein said the Commission simply wanted to be transparent in its proposals.

An earlier version of this article was published by the website BulgarianPresidency.eu, a journalistic project to monitor the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.


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