Lithuania vs Parliament over 2014 EU budget

Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission and Martin Schulz, President of the EP, standing (in the foreground, from left to right). The three EU presidents went to Berlin, where they met with Angela Merkel, German Federal Chancellor. (EC Audiovisual Services, 03/07/2013).

Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission and Martin Schulz, President of the EP, standing (in the foreground, from left to right). The three EU presidents went to Berlin, where they met with Angela Merkel, German Federal Chancellor. (EC Audiovisual Services, 03/07/2013).

It is usual for any EU country while holding the rotating Council Presidency to boast about its achievements. Boasting becomes sometimes unbearable if the Presidency is held by a small or very small member state like Lithuania, the current holder of the presidential seat in the Council. It was exactly like that earlier today when the Lithuanian Presidency announced an informal meeting of the Budget Committee of the Council which will take place in Vilnius and Druskininkai on 4-6 September.

Despite the fact that on such occasions the role of the Presidency is restricted to that of a good hotelier, Vilnius stresses that in the meeting will be discussed the issue of “evolution of payments versus commitments of the EU budget and the lessons of the 2007-2013 financial period as well as other issues”. All grandiose plans but not a word about thorny issues like the forthcoming negotiations with the European Parliament. The relevant press release notes also that the informal Council will discuss also the progress in the Galileo and Copernicus projects.

The 2014 EU budget

Now on the substance of the EU 2014 budget the meeting in Vilnius will have nothing at all to add. The Budget Committee of the Council will have an autumn break away in the picturesque Druskininkai on the expenses of the European and the Lithuanian taxpayers and nothing more. The true issues of the 2014 EU budget are resolved elsewhere.

Already the Council of the European Union adopted yesterday in Brussels its position on 2014 EU budget. In reality this position is not at all new. The European Sting writer George Pepper observed on 20 July that “The Council of the European Union and more precisely the Permanent Representatives Committee, echoing directly the dictums of the 28 EU governments – without having consulted with the European Parliament – reached (yesterday) between them an agreement on the 2014 European Union budget. Needless to say that the resources the Council offers to the Union for next year will be substantially less than in 2013. The Permanent Representatives Committee is composed by the ambassadors of the 28 EU member states. Its role is to prepare decisions of the Council”. Surprise, surprise, the Council endorsed yesterday the text the Permanent Representatives agreed upon in late July without changing a comma in it.

The Permanent Representatives Committee is something like the ‘deep state’ of the European Union. Its 28 ambassadors are the long arm of governments and theirs is the decisive word. They always remain in the background. Thank God the new Treaty of the EU, the Treaty of Lisbon, has upgraded greatly the role of the Parliament. Especially as far as the budget is concerned the position of the EU legislators is of crucial importance. No budget can be approved and applied without the green light from the Parliament.

Take positions

The EU legislators showed their teeth last June when the Multiannual Financial Framework for the 2014-2020 EU budgets was negotiated between the Irish Presidency, the Legislative and the Commission. On that occasion “The Parliament agreed only after having secured three concessions; a sizeable increase in real budget spending, a full flexibility between budget lines and a zero base review in 2016 for the remaining budgets”. It was the Irish Presidency then that narrowly avoided being exposed as completely incompetent.

More bargaining

Obviously the Parliament prepares for a good ‘fight’ with the Presidency on the 2014 budget. Not to forget that the European elections are held in less than 250 days. In view of that the legislators would seek a confrontation with the widest exposure to media. Is Lithuania ready for that? The Parliament has already shown its intention to drag the issue to its limits, at least time-wise. In this way the legislators hope to place the Council under stress because it is its own responsibility for the Union to have a budget for 2014.

George Pepper on 20 July noted “The EU legislative is expected to adopt its amendments on the Council’s position in the week starting on 21 October. If the Council’s and the Parliament’s positions diverge, a three-week conciliation period will start on 24 October and end on 13 November included”.

This time path is very narrow and full of mines. Does the Lithuanian Presidency have the guts to keep its sangfroid in view of the danger to leave the EU without a budget for 2014? Vilnius seems to want an early start of negotiations with the Parliament and that’s why it organised this informal meeting of the Budget Committee of the Council very early this month. Unfortunately for the Lithuanian negotiators – the country’s government – the Parliament doesn’t seem to share their haste. Surely it would be a very interesting issue to follow closely. It will certainly reveal new things in the EU’s workings.

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