Demand for €10bn top-up threatens EU budget talks

Demand for €10bn top-up threatens EU budget talks

Commission seeks to make up shortfall in the 2012 budget.



The European Commission is about to request up to €10 billion from the member states to make up for shortfalls in the European Union’s budget for 2012. The request is expected within two weeks, just as the EU’s institutions are gearing up for a decisive battle over the budget for 2013 and the next multi-annual budget cycle. 

A spokesman for Janusz Lewandowski, the European commissioner for financial programming and budget, said that the amendment to the 2012 budget will be “substantial” in order to fill a gap between the €129bn of payments foreseen in the current budget and the commitments – promises to pay – in areas such as cohesion policy and research.

The European Social Fund, a structural fund that is designed to boost employment, has been without money since the beginning of the month, according to Alain Lamassoure, a centre-right French MEP who chairs the Parliament’s budgets committee. The Erasmus exchange programme will run out of money next week and the framework programme for research at the end of the month. No new contracts are being signed for research projects because of the uncertain payment situation. Lamassoure estimates that the Commission is unable to reimburse €600 million to Greece and €900m to Spain for programmes implemented in those countries under the 2012 EU budget. He described the situation as “absurd” and “politically shocking”.

The unusual size of the amending budget will affect arguments over the 2013 budget, where Lewandowski fears a widening gap between commitments and payments. The problem is particularly acute because 2013 is the last year of the current multi-annual budget cycle. Lewandowski has said that he had no choice but to demand a 6.85% increase in payments for 2013 to cover legally binding commitments made in previous years. This includes an 11.7% increase in payments for cohesion policy, implemented by the member states. The member states, by contrast, in July said that the increase in payments foreseen in the 2013 budget should be cut back to 2.79%.

MEPs on the budgets committee, who back the Commission’s demand for a substantial rise in payments, have been voting since yesterday (3 October) on some 1,500 proposed changes to the draft 2013 budget, and are expected to complete their voting today. A plenary vote is scheduled for 23 October in Strasbourg.

This will be followed by a three-week ‘conciliation’ period in which MEPs will seek to strike a compromise with the member states. Should this fail, the Commission will have to submit a revised draft budget. If there is no agreement by the end of the year, the EU will shift to monthly emergency budgets, based on 2012 figures.

The battles over the 2012 and 2013 budgets come in the run-up to a special summit next month (22-23 November) at which member states’ leaders are supposed to strike a deal on the multi-annual framework for 2014-20. Net contributors to the EU budget, notably France, Germany and the UK, want to cut around €100bn from the Commission’s proposal of €1,033bn, while the main beneficiaries of assistance to the Union’s poorer regions and sections of society want to preserve this cohesion spending.

Tomorrow (5 October), the leaders of the 15 member states in the ‘friends of cohesion’ group will meet in Bratislava, along with Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, and José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission.

In an opinion piece for European Voice (see page 9), Robert Fico, Slovakia’s prime minister, who is hosting tomorrow’s summit, said: “The Bratislava meeting is…to make clear that we see no room for further cuts within a cohesion policy envelope. The current level of co-financing needs to be maintained. At the same time, we need to complete the budget negotiations by the end of this year, as boosting growth and jobs is what Europe needs right now.”

Toby Vogel 

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