No agreement in sight on EU budget

European Parliament 13/6/2013, Conference of Presidents. Martin Schulz President of the Parliament (first from right). (European Parliament photographic library).

European Parliament, 13/6/2013, Conference of Presidents. Martin Schulz President of the Parliament (first from right). (European Parliament photographic library).

In less than 24 hours the European Parliament answered in force a self-congratulating Press release issued by the Irish Presidency, falsely announcing a major breakthrough in the negotiations over the EU budgets for the next seven years. It’s about the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020 that provides for the ceiling of the overall EU spending during this period. The Irish Presidency’s Press release almost reassured everybody that the matter was settled, an allegation which proved yesterday to be totally wrong.

The European Sting writer George Pepper insisted on 12 June that this cannot be like that. He actually wrote that, “This obvious neglect of basic reporting rules which goes as far as sidestepping of democratic principles (not a word on the other side’s positions) has become standard in Irish Presidency’s press releases, regarding the trilateral negotiations between the legislators, the Commission and the Council over the EU spending ceilings during the next seven years. It’s not the first time the Irish Presidency bullies the Parliament on this issue”.

What is at stake?

At this point it must be mentioned that over the past four months there are ongoing trilateral negotiations between the Parliament, the Commission and the Council over this MFF 2014-2020. Last February the European Council of the 27 leaders set the limit for the seven-year EU total spending at €960 billion, less than the previous MFF 2008-2013. It is the first time that the EU budget is proposed to be set at an inferior level than the previous one. On February 12 the European Parliament rejected the decision/proposal of the European Council, in a rare unanimity between its four major political parties. Actually the President of the legislative Martin Schulz stated then that he will never sign such an MFF. That marked the beginning of the negotiations.

As it turned out yesterday the Parliament’s Conference of Presidents (the President of Parliament and the political group chairmen), rejected once more the Council proposal, again in a rare unanimity of all major political parties. The relevant Press release stated that, “The Conference of Presidents is very disappointed that the Council’s reluctance to compromise has not yet allowed for an agreement on the MFF 2014 – 2020 to be reached. The European Parliament has already made far-reaching concessions, taking into account the difficult budgetary situation in the Member States, and is clearly showing its willingness to reach a reasonable deal”.

This is a direct blow to the Irish Presidency of the Council. It was high time that someone taught those impertinent Irish a lesson. And the lesson is directly addressed to the Deputy Irish Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore TD and the Minister of State for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton, who conduct those negotiations on behalf of the Council.

Frozen negotiations

In the substance of the matter the Parliament appears quite frustrated with the attitude of the Council. The Conference of Presidents notes that it’s not at stake only the proper financial means of the Union during the next seven years. There are unpaid bills from the 2012 budget and together with the predicted deficit of 2013 the total amount to be covered this year reaches €11,2bn.

In detail the Conference of Presidents once more confirmed that:
“- without a convincing guarantee from the Council to agree on budgeting the full additional amount of €11.2 billion requested by the European Commission in its Draft Amending Budget no.2 to enable payment of the Union’s bills for the current year,
– without true flexibility for commitments and payments across headings and across years to allow the use of the full amounts foreseen for 2014 to 2020,
– without an obligatory revision clause making it possible to reassess the budgetary needs during the MFF period and adjust them, if necessary, allowing the newly elected European Parliament to play its role, and
– without a clear understanding on a viable way and timetable for the setting up of a true system of own resources for the European Union,
the necessary majority in Parliament to consent to the next MFF will not be achieved”.

In short the Parliament appears ready to hold this position, because reportedly the legislative has already made a step backwards by accepting the overall limit at €960bn. Unfortunately the Council doesn’t seem ready to make a respective move. Yet the Irish Presidency every time there is a discussion comes out with ‘triumphant’ Press releases announcing breakthrough agreement. Reality is far from that. The Parliament is not ready to forsake anything more. It’s the turn of the Council to make a contribution.

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