3 July 2013

“This is the best possible agreement we could get” and “there has been important progress on the introduction of some flexibility” in the multiannual financial framework (MFF, 2014-2020). With these words, and similar statements, a majority of the members of the European Parliament hailed, on 2 July in Strasbourg, the political agreement struck on the EU's long-term budget, on 27 June (see Europolitics 4675). Parliament will vote on 3 July on a resolution to support the text, and thus pave the way for the final vote in autumn.

The Irish Presidency reached an agreement with MEPs almost in extra time. The legislators attached to the deal conditions that need to be met in exchange for their support, notably as regards flexibility to carry over unused funds from one year to another and between categories, and the inclusion of a revision clause to reopen the MFF in 2016.

“The European Parliament has made the MFF a better instrument,” summarised Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny during the debate. “We did listen to the members of Parliament and we did manage to address its concerns,” he said. During his semester at the EU's helm, he prioritised sealing a deal on the long-term budget, a process carried out through “long, difficult and highly sensitive negotiations,” Kenny recalled in plenary. He welcomed the outcome, especially underlining the “very significant step forward” regarding flexibility.

While still supporting the agreement, the main groups in the chamber pointed out some pending issues and flaws in the budget. The President of the EPP group, Joseph Daul (France), and his Liberal counterpart, Guy Verhofstadt (Belgium), recalled that the member states still have to cover €3.9 billion in pending bills in the 2013 budget, a condition set by Parliament before giving its final approval. The leader of the Socialist group, Hannes Swoboda (Austria), considered insufficient the funds available for fighting youth unemployment, but underlined the importance of having bigger flexibility to reallocate unspent funds to create opportunities for youth people.

On the other hand, the other groups voiced their opposition to the compromise text. The Greens announced they will vote against the text, since they consider it a lost opportunity to improve the MFF deal agreed by the European Council last February. Meanwhile, the President of the GUE-NGL group, Gabriele Zimmer (Germany), said that “Schulz' Social Democrats should not help the EPP to get their majority for this shady deal for Europe”.

“The EU budget is an almost €1 trillion investment fund for growth and jobs,” said European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who got involved at the end of the negotiations. “Without it, everything we are trying to do for growth, for investment, for the regions, for young people, for employment, for research [ ] would all be put at risk,” he added during the debate.

Following the approval by the last European Council, and hours later rubber-stamped by Coreper, on 28 June, the legislators need to give their final endorsement after the summer by absolute majority.

France satisfied

Thierry Repentin, France's European affairs minister, was pleased that his countries' demands, which had been supported by the Socialist group in Parliament, had been taken into account in the MFF. “The aspects relating to the flexibility of this budget, the fund for aid to the poorest and the request for a review clause in 2016 seemed legitimate given what was at stake. If there had not been this agreement on the MFF, we would have been deprived of an important tool for public policies, such as the mechanism to fight youth unemployment, the fund for aid for the poor and the enlargement of Erasmus to apprentices and to young people in training in companies,” Repentin told a few journalists, on 1 July in Strasbourg. “In an emergency, we have carried out substantive work,” he went on. “We have managed to mobilise all the resources in the parts devoted to employment. This financial framework will not sacrifice resources for work on big European infrastructure, interconnection mechanisms and big railway transport infrastructure either.” While Repentin was pleased with European projects to build railways, to be financed between 2014 and 2020, his government will have to announce, on 9 July, a minimalist scenario for the development of national infrastructure, in which the planning of several high-speed cross-border lines, such as the Bordeaux-Hendaye line or the second phase of the Rhine-Rhone TGV will be put back beyond 2030.

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