Another Europe is possible

Irish Presidency jumps the gun and announces ‘budget agreement’


Misleading the media



"We have concluded the negotiations on the multiannual financial framework," announced - all smiles - Ireland's Tánaiste and Minister of Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore, on 19 June. After a 24-hour marathon session, in extra time Dublin was eager to announce that Parliament's chief negotiator, Alain Lamassoure (EPP, France), and the Irish Presidency, on behalf of the Council, agreed on a "comprehensive package" on the EU's next seven-year budget (2014-2020). The package, Dublin said, takes into consideration Parliament's previously detailed conditions. Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski congratulated the negotiators as "they showed the required courage to make the tough compromises that were needed from both sides".

But the Irish Presidency's diehard determination to seal the deal before the end of its term at the EU's helm backfired on 20 June, as the deputies complained that no real agreement was reached, and warned that they may reject the half-baked text, which is now back in Parliament's court for further discussions.

Reimer Böge (EPP, Germany), one of Parliament's rapporteurs, described the Irish Presidency's announcement of an "alleged agreement" as "nothing more than manipulation". Böge explained in a statement that Parliament's negotiating team decided, late on 19 June, not to continue the talks in absence of real progress. Böge considers the results "insufficient" and not worth defending in plenary. For that reason, he resigned as rapporteur on the MFF.

All the main political groups were likewise unhappy with the results.

The leader of the Socialist group, Hannes Swoboda (Austria), "deeply" regretted that "the Council did not make a more substantial move towards the European Parliament's demands".

Jürgen Klute (GUE-NGL, Germany) said: "It's a scandal how the Irish Presidency and the European Commission have intentionally misled the public". ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt (Belgium) commented that "on the basis of the disparate and partial evidence we have so far seen, an agreement has not yet been reached". Other MEPs reacted angrily on Twitter, hinting that a heated debate on the MFF is in order in the coming weeks.

Certain sources refrained from commenting to Europolitics on details of the proposal as the groups were still discussing the text internally. The group leaders will evaluate the draft compromise next week, but an EP position is unlikely to emerge before the General Affairs Council of 25 June, when the Irish Presidency planned to present the pact to the member states.

MEPs do not see much movement on their demands that they spelled out in March. These include a more flexible budget and a mid-term review of the MFF. By insisting on these conditions, MEPs aim to "make the most" of the €960 billion budget agreed by the heads of state and government at their summit in February.

The most sensitive issue is the introduction of flexibility. This would make it possible to roll over unspent money from one year to another and between headings, instead of sending it back to the capitals, as it happens today. On this point, the final talks brought no progress. The legislators continued to ask for "full flexibility" both in commitments (legal pledges to provide finance) and payments (cash transfers to the beneficiaries). Meanwhile, the Council argued in favour of "capped flexibility" applying only to payments. According to EU sources, the compromise text extends flexibility to payments and to a limited extent also to commitments but during the first two years only. Gilmore explained that rollover from one year to another will be restricted "under certain conditions and certain limitations". He refused to elaborate. The Commission initially supported Parliament's position, but Lewandowski accepted the outcome, saying that "the package foresees strong flexibility measures to make the fullest use of the amounts available to the EU budget over the next years".

Regarding the MFF's mid-term review, the European Commission will propose a revision before the end of 2016, taking into account not only the actual situation of the EU economy, but also the forecasts. A major bone of contention during the negotiations was the depth of this review, as well as the possibility to top up the budget at a later stage. The Council remained opposed to predicting eventual outcomes for such a review, including whether fresh money would be needed, although Gilmore said, on 19 June, that "we hope they [the economic situation and the economic forecast] will be much better".

In view of national constrains, and mindful of the need to bolster the EU budget with external revenues, Parliament included as a condition a discussion about ways to increase the Union's own resources. The parties agreed on a timeline starting "as soon as the agreement is formalised and once the budget is in place," said Gilmore. But Verhofstadt, one of the most active defenders of this clause, said that "no serious discussion" took place about how to implement this point.

The Irish Presidency has been pushing hard for an agreement against the clock before the end of its term in order to leave enough time for the conclusion of a series of related sectoral legislative packages (such as the CAP or cohesion policy) during the second half of the year, before January 2014.

"It's been a collaborative effort," said Gilmore. "At the end of the day, what this budget is about is not the institutions, is not about who has won this point or who has won that point," said the Irish minister just after the talks. But victory is still not in sight .

No deal yet on 2014-20 budget, EU lawmakers say
By Alexandra Mayer-Hohdahl,
International Service in English
Deutsche Presse-Agentur

 The European Parliament on Thursday denied that a breakthrough deal had been achieved on the European Union's 2014-20 budget, pouring cold water on assertions by EU governments after two days of last-ditch negotiations.

"It is clear that there is no agreement from the European Parliament at this time," said Hannes Swoboda, the leader of the legislature's socialist faction. "We will not take a rushed decision without due consideration ... I cannot be blackmailed."

"On the basis of the disparate and partial evidence we have so far seen, an agreement has not yet been reached," liberal democratic leader Guy Verhofstadt added.

Jurgen Klute of the far-left GUE/NGL group accused the two other parties at the negotiating table - Ireland, which currently holds the EU's presidency, and the European Commission - of having "intentionally misled the public."

Conservative lawmaker Reimer Boege also spoke of "a rather objectionable manipulation" by the presidency. He told dpa that he would step down as parliamentary negotiator because he cannot recommend that the legislature approve the budget in its current shape.

On Wednesday evening, Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore had asserted that an agreement on the seven-year budget had been reached. EU Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski had also proclaimed the "end of negotiations."

"The chief negotiators of the two sides have agreed to submit a package to their respective institutions," Lewandowski's spokesman, Patrizio Fiorilli, added Thursday. "We will now let (the parliament and member states) decide what they will do with this package."

This step is traditionally a formality, however, meant to wave through agreements struck by negotiators.

The two sides are under pressure to deliver a deal by the end of this month to ensure that funds for 2014-20 will start to be deployed on time.

"Just because a discussion process is not concluded does not mean it is poisoned," Autrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said on Thursday afternoon, after meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Vienna.

The EU's European affairs ministers have to endorse any agreement. Their last meeting under the Irish presidency is set for Tuesday, although they will have one more meeting next month before the August summer break.

According to Gilmore, the budget package sets a timetable for talks on the EU directly raising resources and includes a binding 2016 revision clause to adapt the budget to changing economic times if needed - appearing to meet some of the parliament's key demands.

But lawmakers complained that "real flexibility" had not been achieved; not enough funds would be deployed for fighting youth unemployment and boosting growth; too little progress was made on own resources; and holes in this year's budget were yet to be filled.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble urged the parliament to keep in mind the need for an agreement, or risk losing those achievements made.

"We need clarity," Schaeuble said Thursday on the margins of a meeting with eurozone counterparts in Luxembourg. "We don't want to put aside the means to fight youth unemployment."

Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter also warned the legislature that "not all wishes can be fulfilled."

MEPs reject claim that EU budget deal done
by Daniel Mason
Public Service Europe

The Irish presidency of the European Union and the European Commission have been accused of misleading the public by announcing that an agreement had been reached on the bloc's €960bn seven-year budget.

Last night Eamon Gilmore, Ireland's deputy prime minister, said a deal had been done with the European Parliament's representatives on the details of the financial programme for 2014-2020. Gilmore, who led the talks on behalf of the Irish presidency of the EU Council, described it as a "very good day for Europe" and said the package addressed MEPs' main concerns about the spending plans.

Any deal would next have to win the approval of member states and the full parliament. Gilmore said: "We have agreed a package that we are going to recommend to our respective institutions." Following the announcement, Janusz Lewandowski, the European Commissioner responsible for the budget, said the negotiators had shown "the required courage to make the tough compromises that were needed from both sides".

But today Reimer Böge MEP, from the centre-right European People's Party, resigned as rapporteur on the multiannual financial framework in protest. He said: "The statement by the Irish council presidency of an alleged agreement on the financial framework is nothing more than a manipulation. The parliament's negotiating team last night decided not to continue the negotiations, if they can be called such at all." Later Hannes Swoboda, the leader of Socialist and Democrat MEPs, said it was "clear" there was "no agreement from the parliament at this time", adding on Twitter that he would not be "blackmailed" by the council.

Through the day MEPs have continued to criticise the Irish claim that the talks concluded successfully. In a strongly-worded statement, Jürgen Klute MEP, from the European United Left/Nordic Green Left alliance, said: "No agreement was reached. The negotiation team stopped all negotiations. It's a scandal how the Irish presidency and the commission have intentionally misled the public." Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, concurred that there was "still no deal between the parliament and the council".

For the Greens/European Free Alliance, Helga Trüpel MEP said: "The council negotiators proved to be thoroughly uncooperative and clearly aimed to bypass the parliament's involvement as far as possible. The council's coercive behaviour is in stark contradiction with the parliament's rights to democratic participation." She added: "I am particularly shocked by attempts to manipulate public opinion by deliberately withholding information. The council has for example announced to the media an agreement that still does not exist."

There have been 10 rounds of negotiations on the budget, with the most recent talks lasting 24 hours. The latest proposals incorporate some of the requests made by MEPs, including a mandatory review of the budget before the end of 2016, greater flexibility on where money is spent, and an assessment of how the EU might raise its own funds in the future instead of relying on member states' contributions.

Those demands were made by parliament in exchange for accepting the overall figure of €960bn, which represents a cut compared with the European Commission's original proposal for a budget of more than €1tn. In February EU leaders led by Germany's Angela Merkel and the United Kingdom's David Cameron insisted on reduced spending in line with national austerity measures, a move that angered many MEPs.

But Swoboda, whose group is the parliament's second largest, said there had been no "substantial move towards the parliament's demands for EU citizens". He added: "The S&D group will – taking its responsibilities more seriously than the council – carefully discuss all elements of the latest proposal and come to a decision only after that evaluation." The various political groups will discuss their positions at meetings next week. A parliamentary vote on the budget is scheduled for July's plenary session in Strasbourg.

Read more:

No deal yet on EU's long-term budget, Parlementarians say

Efforts to finalize a new long-term EU budget have suffered a setback after the major parties in the European Parliament rejected a provisional deal. EU politicians have been wrangling over the issue for months.

The statements that came out of the European Parliament on Thursday contradicted reports from just a few hours earlier, suggesting that a breakthrough deal had been achieved that would seek lawmakers approval of the proposed budget.

Parliamentarians from all four major groups vehemently denied that an agreement had been reached. Some suggested Wednesday night's statement by Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore, claiming that an agreement on the seven-year budget had been reached, was optimistic at best.

Ireland holds the EU's six-month, rotating presidency until the end of June.

Finalizing the EU's seven-year budget

Funding for agriculture, fishing, and economically-weak regions is to be maintained in the EU's next long-term budget. Overall spending, though, has been capped. So how will the member states balance the equation? (20.06.2013)

Conservative lawmaker Reimer Böge spoke of "a rather objectionable manipulation" by the presidency, adding that he would step down as parliamentary budget negotiator.

"It is clear that there is no agreement from the European Parliament at this time," the leader of the socialist group, Hannes Swoboda, said. "We will not take a rushed decision without due consideration ... I cannot be blackmailed."

The parliamentary leader of the liberal democrats struck a similar tone.

"On the basis of the disparate and partial evidence we have so far seen, an agreement has not yet been reached," liberal democratic leader Guy Verhofstadt said.

The leader of the far-left GUE/NGL group went even farther, accusing both the European Commission and the Irish presidency of having "intentionally misled the public."

The seven-year EU budget regulates what the bloc can spend on things like agricultural subsidies, infrastructure, and measures to support employment.

Historic spending cut

The process of trying to finalize a budget for the years 2014-2020 has been going on for several months. The leaders of the EU's 27 member states agreed back in February on a budget worth 960 billion euros ($1.27 trillion), which would represent a first-ever spending cut.

A provision included in the EU's 2007 Lisbon Treaty gives the European Parliament a say in fiscal matters, meaning this is the first time that the EU has needed their approval to implement a long-term budget.

EU politicians on Thursday reiterated calls for lawmakers to approve the provisional deal.

"We need clarity," German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said. "We don't want to put aside the means to fight youth unemployment."

His Austrian counterpart, Maria Fekter, warned parliamentarians that "not all wishes can be fulfilled."

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