The Irish Presidency bullies the Parliament over EU budget

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, received Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, Enda Kenny, Irish Prime Minister and President in office of the Council of the EU, and Eamon Gilmore, Irish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. They gathered for a discussion on the Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) 2014-2020 and on an amending budget for 2013. (EC Audiovisual Services, 06/05/2013).

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, received Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, Enda Kenny, Irish Prime Minister and President in office of the Council of the EU, and Eamon Gilmore, Irish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. They gathered for a discussion on the Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) 2014-2020 and on an amending budget for 2013. (EC Audiovisual Services, 06/05/2013).

It is unbelievable how strongly and some-times unduly the Irish Presidency of the EU Council presses the European Parliament in the negotiations over the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020, which sets the limits for the EU budget spending for the next seven years. The Irish government ministers who are conducting those negations act as if Ireland has undertaken the job under a contract.

It must be reminded that the European Council agreed to cut down the financial means of the EU for the period 2014-2020 to €960 billion. This is an agreement that the European Parliament has rejected in a very rare unanimity of its four major political parties. The dead-end is supposed to be addressed by trilateral negotiations between the Parliament, the Presidency and the Commission.

Up to a limit the Irish urgency to conclude those negotiations under this country’s current Presidency in the first half of this year is understandable. But it is unacceptable to start all talks, papers and Press releases with the highly contested by the Parliament limit of €960bn. In the latest incident the Irish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore TD, issued yesterday a Press release entitled “EU budget talks intensify”, without any official negotiations having taken place. On this occasion the Parliament’s statement issued also yesterday clarified that, “After Parliament set out its stance during the March plenary, there have been constructive contacts with the member states, but a final agreement still has to be agreed”. Obviously no official negotiations took place yesterday, and the Parliament’s negotiator Giovanni La Via didn’t issue a Press release.

Irish stubbornness

Still the Irish minister commented that “”We made good progress today…I believe agreement is still possible by the end of this month. I will travel to Strasbourg next week for what will be a key negotiating session.” He indirectly recognizes that no negotiations took place yesterday and also that real talks will take place next week in Strasbourg.

As for the subject matter of this issue, the Parliament appears quite disillusioned with the stance of the EU governments. Seemingly the real negotiations about the MFF 2014-2020 are taking place behind closed doors between the European Parliament and representatives of the core EU member state governments. Not with the Irish Presidency. A relevant note issued by the Parliament is very clear about this matter. It goes like that, “EU countries ignored Parliament’s call for a growth-boosting long-term budget for 2014-2020 when they agreed on 8 February 2013 to cut the budget from its previous level for the first time in the EU’s history”.

As noted above, the Parliament rejected this proposal on 13 February. The Parliamentarians want this new multiannual financial framework to be more flexible and open to revision. They also insist on a real system of own resources for the EU. On both accounts there is no sign of agreement.

However it’s not only the future that worries the MEPs. The past intrigues them too. The 2012 EU budget has left unpaid bill and the same is expected to happen this year. In total the deficits of those two budgets is estimated at €11.2bn. In view of that the Commission proposes to cover only the €7.5bn something that the Parliament has  denied.

There are also more differences over the way the negotiations should be conducted. The Irish Presidency and the Commission want a global agreement including past deficits and future spending. On the other side of the fence the Parliament says that there cannot be an agreement for the future, if the past is not settled. The Irish Presidency insisted quite improperly there will be “one global agreement, take or leave it”. As if the Parliament is a beggar.

Unpaid bills

In this respect the Parliament negotiator La Via, an Italian member of the EPP group warned that “Commission proposals to top up the EU’s budget for 2013 to cover existing and expected shortfalls will not be enough”. He stressed that a lot of 2012 projects in many member states which are co-financed by the European Funds are not paid. The same is to happen also this year.

In view of that the Parliament clarified to the Irish Presidency that the unpaid bills of 2012 and the predicted deficits of 2013 must first be taken care of. Then there will be negotiations for the MFF 2014-2020 spending limit. In this manner the Parliament wants to avoid the prospect that the unpaid bills of 2012 and 2013 be covered by the €960bn of the 2014-2020 MFF, reducing it further.

The Irish don’t seem to understand however and their government ministers keep issuing self-congratulating Press releases as if the other side doesn’t even exist. That kind of problems with the rotating Presidencies have occurred in the past. This time however the Irish government ministers are crossing the limits and seem disrespectful to the European Parliament. It is the job of Herman Van Rompuy to explain them that the European Parliament is the leading institution of the EU edifice.

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