MEPs demand more on 2014-20 budget
Members of the European Parliament are seeking to extract last-minute concessions from the European Union’s member states on the EU’s budget for 2014-20, in what has become a test of brinkmanship.
A deal struck last week by negotiators from the Union’s main institutions was rejected this week by representatives of the main political groups in the Parliament.
They refused to put forward the deal for a vote by the full Parliament next week – the last occasion for an agreement before September.
All sides recognise that to delay agreement until after the summer would have dangerous consequences for the EU’s finances, not least because the budget for 2014 has to be settled. But the MEPs are adamant that the member states must make more concessions.
Martin Schulz, the president of the Parliament, said that the Council’s texts “as they currently stand do not take Parliament’s priorities sufficiently into account”. “Therefore, it can be assumed that a large majority within the House will not support the outcome of last week’s negotiations,” he said.
Schulz will meet Enda Kenny, Ireland’s prime minister, and José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, today (27 June), in a bid to revise the deal, possibly with the help of the European Council, which meets today and tomorrow (27-28 June) in Brussels.
The tentative deal agreed last Thursday (20 June) between the MEPs’ negotiator, Alain Lamassoure, and Eamon Gilmore, Ireland’s foreign minister, on behalf of the member states, soon unravelled.
Reimer Böge, a German centre-right MEP, denounced it the next day, so making clear that there was not agreement among the Parliament’s negotiators, of whom he was one, nor in the European People’s Party (EPP), to which both he and Lamassoure belong.
Gilmore’s plan had been to seek endorsement from member states’ ministers at the general affairs council on Tuesday (25 June) and then from the Parliament next week, followed by the formal adoption of a regulation on the 2014-20 multi-annual financial framework (MFF) by the Council of Ministers.
However, the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (the Parliament’s second-largest group), the Liberals and the Greens lined up to oppose the deal, saying it fell short of meeting the demands that the Parliament had outlined in March. They were joined by a number of MEPs from the EPP.
Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats group in the Parliament, described last week’s deal as “not acceptable”.
MEPs are not disputing the overall size of the budget – €960 billion – but want changes to the rules on how the budget is managed and a mid-term review.
Hannes Swoboda, the leader of the Socialists and Democrats group in the Parliament, said: “Some progress has been made but it remains insufficient.”
Both he and Ivailo Kalfin, a Bulgarian MEP who is the Socialist group’s negotiator on the long-term budget, emphasised the need for helping employment, particularly for the young.
Even if the entire EPP group were to support the compromise, it could not deliver the absolute majority in Parliament required for the long-term budget to be adopted. An EPP official suggested that some 80-100 additional votes would be needed and, for that to happen, the member states would need to make a major concession to win over a substantial number of liberal or centre-left MEPs. The frontloading into 2014-15 of €6bn in funding for a new youth employment initiative, on which consensus has emerged over the past few weeks, was insufficient to secure the centre-left’s support for the long-term budget. A Socialist source said that frontloading was “welcome” but that funding had to be secured beyond 2015.
Schulz said on Tuesday that he did not count on concessions from the European Council. Ireland does not have a negotiating mandate to make further concessions, and the MFF is not currently on the agenda of the European Council’s meeting. Gilmore said: “We are going to continue discussions with the Parliament to explore what is required to secure agreement and majority support in Parliament.”
Should a deal emerge from today’s meeting between Schulz, Kenny and Barroso, then Ireland is prepared to convene an extraordinary meeting of member states’ ambassadors to the EU tomorrow. Lamassoure, who is chairman of the Parliament’s budgets committee, has requested an extraordinary meeting of his committee to discuss the budget negotiations in Strasbourg on Monday at 6.30pm. Should there be a breakthrough today, the committee would use Monday’s session to gives its verdict, allowing the deal to go forward for a vote by the full Parliament.