MEPs find €10 billion for refugees in unspent EU funds

Refugees in Idomeni, Greece. [Fotomovimiento/Flickr]

EXCLUSIVE /  Up to €10 billion could be found to help alleviate the refugee crisis by using unspent cash left over from the European Union budget.

The money would not require any fresh funds from member states because it had already been committed for projects to help develop poorer EU regions that never got off the ground.

Five leading MEPs from the European Parliament’s Budget and Regional Affairs Committee are spearheading the drive to get the cash – left over from €430 billion of Structural Funds for the 2007-2013 period – to directly support the response to the refugee crisis.

Structural funds are financing streams that aim to finance project that help reduce regional disparities in income and wealth.  But not all the projects find private or public partners.

Because the unspent cash is from the 2007-2013 budget period, it would not affect current spending commitments. If not redirected, the money would flow back to national governments.

The “windfall” has only just come to light because the accounts for the last budget period are being closed.

EURACTIV put the proposal to the European Commission, which conceded the idea could have merit.

A spokesman said, “Every effort should be made to see how to increase flexibility of the EU budget. We will look carefully at this proposal.”

The much needed cash will likely be welcomed by EU leaders, meeting in Brussels today and tomorrow to thrash out a deal with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees into the EU.

They, as well as the Commission and Parliament, will have to back the idea if it is to be put into practice.

Heads of state and government are also discussing extra funding for Greece to handle the refugees landing on its islands from Turkey, as well as a total 6 billion euro package for Ankara to pay for the keep of migrants in Turkey.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on the European Commission to find extra funding for the crisis from existing EU funding streams.

Wrap-up: EU leaders reach deal with Turkey

The EU summit last week (7 March) failed to reach a deal with Turkey to stem the unprecedented migrant crisis. Today and tomorrow (17-18 March), EU leaders were expected to talk about the economy and the climate but these have been pushed to the margins, as the meeting will be dominated by the refugee crisis.

How would it work?

The Commission estimates that between €2 and €10 billion could be leftover from the 2007-2013 period of the budget, called the Multiannual Financial Framework.  An exact figure is expected in early 2017.

Under the proposal, the money would be put in a Temporary Migration Crisis Relief Fund, helmed by the European Commission.

The European People’s Party MEPs are led by Maria Spyraki, a Greek European People’s Party member.

Spyraki said, “Instead of endless debates on who should pay more and where the money should go, the Commission should be asked to use all the available funds for specific support in specific member states that are mostly affected, even if this money was supposed to be sent back to the member states.

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.”

Greece has suffered the brunt of the crisis and could stand to benefit the most from the recycled cash.

“We also need to support member states like Germany, Austria and Sweden that are taking special actions in order to tackle the long term impact of the migration crisis,” said Spyraki.

Spyraki and the other MEPs believe that decisions would have to be made on which countries get the cash and how much. This should be based on how many incoming refugees they have to handle, they said.

Growing support

The idea is being circulated among the EPP, which is the largest group in the European Parliament. It is already backed by Budget Committee heavyweights Lambert Van Nistelrooij, Jean-Marian Marinescu, Germany’s Reimer Böge, and José Manuel Fernandes.

Spyraki is confident that her group will ultimately back the plan. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk – chairing today’s migration talks – and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are all members of the same centre-right political family.

The plan could conceivably be discussed in the European Parliament in April, during the debate on the draft amending budget already proposed by the Commission for the refugee crisis.

The European Council could then react to any amendment made by MEPs.

EU to use overseas aid for refugee crisis at home

The European Commission will this week propose using funds usually earmarked for catastrophes outside the bloc to provide aid to EU countries affected by the migrant crisis, a spokeswoman said Monday (29 February).

European Union leaders yesterday (17 March) warned hard work was needed at a summit on Thursday to seal a deal with Turkey to curb the migration crisis, despite signs that key hold-out Cyprus is ready to

Several expressed concerns about the proposed accord, under which all migrants landing in Greece would be sent back to Turkey which has been seeking EU membership for decades.

A divided EU has pinned its hopes on a bargain with Turkey to cut off the main route used by the 1.2 million asylum seekers who have landed in the bloc since January 2015, sparking the continent's biggest migration crisis since World War II.

Timmermans: Failure on EU-Turkey deal will turn Greece into refugee camp

Failure to agree a deal with Turkey at today’s summit on migration will condemn Greece to becoming the refugee camp of Europe, Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans warned on Wednesdays (16 March).

Bulgaria fears becoming alternative route for refugees

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has asked that the plan to return migrants arriving in Greece to Turkey, also applies to his country, the press in Sofia reports ahead of the EU summit beginning today (17 March).

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