Europe must respect "difficult times" by adopting a budget that reflects austerity measures being introduced by national governments, European Parliament Vice-President Diana Wallis told EURACTIV Slovakia in a wide-ranging interview.
In Britain the government has made massive spending cuts, "which we have to do to get us out of the financial position that we are in," said Wallis, a UK Liberal Democrat MEP.
"Many countries across the EU are doing that. At the same time we are facing an EU budget that represents a rise of 6%. It is very, very difficult," said Wallis, whose party is part of a governing coalition with the Conservatives in the UK.
A summit of EU leaders last week saw wrangling over the European Union's long-term spending plan for 2014-2020 kick off months earlier than anticipated, with the UK securing considerable support for a lean budget (EURACTIV 29/10/10).
UK Prime Minister David Cameron declared that the European Commission's plans to increase EU spending in 2011 by 5.9%, which were strongly backed by the Parliament, were "dead" after winning support from France, Germany and ten other countries for a leaner budget.
"Of course I respect the outcome of the vote in the European Parliament which adopted the increase, but I think it's rather sad. I think Europe also has to respect the difficult times that we are in," Wallis said.
The Parliament vice-president would be open to increasing the EU's own resources by introducing a European tax if it were to improve the transparency of the bloc’s budget and help people in the street to "understand more easily what amount of their money is going towards Europe".
"Most citizens would be pleasantly surprised that Europe costs a lot less to run than they think," she claimed.
As for the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI), which allows citizens to request the Commission to propose legislation, Wallis said "ultimately we want to see the ECI used by ordinary people" but expects a large NGO, most likely in the environmental field, to be first to make use of the process.
The Lib Dem MEP is representing the European Parliament in discussions with Commission Vice-President Maroš Šef?ovi? on setting up the ECI.
Asked whether the implementing rules would favour its use by NGOs or political parties over ordinary people, Wallis replied: "Let it be as open and permissive as possible. They can use it. But […] if political parties and members of parliament feel that they have to use [an ECI], then why? They have enough tools of their own. They should leave this to the citizens."
Regarding the future of lobbying regulation in Brussels, Wallis said most good lobbyists "would like us to have a proper mandatory, obligatory register, where all lobbyists were forced to register. And that's the Parliament's aspiration as well".
She expressed hope that plans to set up a joint register between the EU assembly and the European Commission would lead to a mandatory register eventually "because to get into the Parliament you need an access badge".
Wallis praised Commissioner Šef?ovi?'s performance so far and described him as "great fun to work with". "He is doing a good job and with his leadership […], we stand a great chance of getting the ECI up and available for our citizens to use sooner rather than later."
To read the full transcript of the interview with Wallis, which also deals with the internal market, EU enlargement policy, direct democracy, the Roma controversy and her relations with Commissioner Šef?ovi?, please click here.