Tajani proposes ‘Copernican revolution’ in EU budget

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani is drawing up proposals for a radical overhaul of the EU budget, which would slash the lavish sums devoted to its prime beneficiaries: farmers. 

Tajani’s plan, which also involves switching the budget cycle from seven years to five, will seek to refocus Europe’s budgetary priorities away from big landowners toward security, immigration, youth unemployment and climate change.

“If you want to change Europe, you have first of all to change the budget, and Tajani wants a Copernican revolution,” said a senior Parliament official close to the presidency.

While Tajani is able to trigger a debate within the EU, any formal proposal would have to come from the European Commission, which tends to be more resistant toward revolutionary change. Any attempt to shake up the €58 billion-per-year budget payments under the Common Agricultural Policy would also be likely to hit an impasse among member countries. Farming heavyweights such as France, Italy, Spain and Poland are hostile toward any reductions in the CAP.

Officials briefed on Tajani’s proposal say that switching to a five-year period would mean the budget would “follow the political cycle of EU institutions and have them more engaged.”

The officials defended more than halving the funds for farmers because they “account for 2 percent of EU gross domestic product and get nearly 40 percent of the budget.”

The Italian conservative’s plan will also look to reshape drastically the way EU funds are allocated to member countries.

“We have identified four priority areas for EU citizens: security, immigration, youth unemployment and climate change,” a second senior official said.

According to the plan, part of the budget should be devoted to a research fund for defense and security. More funds should be allocated to the EU border agency Frontex, policing and asylum policies, the official added.

Reaction to the revolution

Tajani has discussed the proposal with Commissioner for Budget Günther Oettinger, with Manfred Weber, who chairs the European People’s Party in Parliament, and with his Socialists & Democrats counterpart Gianni Pittella, according to officials briefed on the plan.

Pittella said that there were elements he agreed with: “We want a 5+5 cycle instead of seven years. Let’s not forget that every reform of funding is strictly in connection with Brexit, which will account for a significant loss to the EU budget.”

He was, however, more cautious on the idea of a cut for farmers, one of the most inflammatory issues in EU politics.

“With respect to the funding for the Common Agricultural Policy funds, it is procedurally up to the Commission and not the president of the Parliament,” he said.

The Commission had no immediate comment on Tajani’s ideas.

Officials close to European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan said they were unaware of Tajani’s plan. They also said that it would be a surprise if Tajani dared be too radical considering that his cabinet chief, Diego Canga Fano, is a former senior official in the Commission’s Agriculture and Rural Development department.

Socialist lawmaker Paolo De Castro said there was a general acceptance the EU needed to “reflect on how to save money” given the focus on bolstering security and spending on migration issues.

However, he insisted this could be done through technical measures such as U.S.-style insurance schemes, co-financing and counter-cyclical spending, so that savings were made when market conditions were favorable.

Still, he acknowledged that the overall Common Agricultural Policy budget would diminish following Britain’s exit from the EU in March 2019 at the earliest.

“We know we have to pay part of the cost of Brexit,” he said.