Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Sharpening the axes: EU Council long term budget discussion

What did the discussion about the EU's long term budget offer the public?

Yesterday the General Affairs Council (GAC) publicly debated the long term budget (officially, the multiannual financial framework MFF), which is going to determine the EU's annual budgets 2014-2020.

The MFF is how the EU member states control income and expenditure, despite the much touted new powers of the European Parliament regarding the annual budgets. The EP can only accept or reject the MFF.

Yesterday, the ministers did not discuss the long term budget, but a ”negotiating box” covering four categories of expenditure (known as "headings"): heading 1 “Smart and inclusive growth” (except for cohesion policy and the Connecting Europe Facility), heading 3 “Security and citizenship”, heading 4 “Global Europe” (EU's external action) and heading 5 (administration).

In other words, it was not like the discussion of a house, but of an important section of the blueprint of the building.


Openness

The Council press people have written an article about the GAC meeting and tried to make the MFF negotiating process comprehensible. There are helpful links to web pages concerning the Multiannual Financial Framwork 2014-2020 (and further news, proposals and videos) and the outline of the negotiating box.

The discussion was webcast directly, and those who are interested can watch the recording as an example of Council debate. The recording also serves, if you want to know the main negotiating aims of one or more countries. You can also see the emerging front lines.

When the interventions of the chairman and Commissioners are added to each of the 27 EU member states (plus Croatia) making its main points in three minutes, this ”tour de table” or series of monologues took about two hours and a quarter.

There is also the 30 min video recording of the press conference with the Danish minister Nicolai Wammen, who chaired the meeting, and the commissioners Maroš Šefčovič (inter-institutional relations and administration) and Janusz Lewandowski (financial programming and budget).

Even if this was an 'early stages' discussion, the press conference offers some distilled information and intelligent questions from journalists.

It is not easy to summarise the diverging opinions of the member states, but perhaps for the first time the GAC conclusions look as if someone had made an effort (without naming and shaming individual countries):

3158th Council meeting General Affairs; Brussels, 26 March 2012 (document 8129/12)

Read the conclusions, if you want to know the bones of contention at a general level.


Improvements

The General Affairs Council has been been a real disappointment with regard to openness, governance standards and effectiveness during the first two years of the Lisbon Treaty.

It is therefore worth noting that the quality of advance information (although very late) and the conclusions has improved during the Danish presidency.

As in the case of the eurozone (Eurogroup, Euro Summit), the Council press service has enhanced the quality of presentation lately, although the opaque nature of these coteries remains.


Media

About ten countries want to squeeze the Commission proposals by some EUR100 billion. Here are some media reports.

Eight countries want to scrap the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF), which spends about EUR500 million annually, according to the Swedish EU minister Birgitta Ohlsson (Europaportalen.se). No financial transaction tax (FTT) for the EU coffers to reduce the national contributions, according to Ohlsson.

Ten countries asked for macroeconomic conditionality to be extended to all forms of EU expenditure, Europolitics reported in a good summary of the contents of the GAC discussion.

Ahead of the annual budget for 2013, the Commission tells the institutions to limit expenditure (EUobserver). While member states want to cut expenses for administration, the Commission counters with problems to recruit officials from the rich member states or from fields where the private sector offers more for top talent (EUobserver).



Ralf Grahn
speaker and lecturer on EU affairs

P.S. The multilingual Bloggingportal.eu already aggregates the posts from 948 Euroblogs. They represent an integral part of the emerging European online public sphere, discussion across national and linguistic borders. Regards-citoyens is a highly productive French blog, which mixes own articles and analysis with selected writings from other media and news from the EU institutions.

Among the Euroblogs on Bloggingportal.eu you find my current blog trio, Grahnlaw (recently ranked fourth among political blogs in Finland), the Nordic Grahnblawg (written in Swedish) and Eurooppaoikeus (meaning European Law, in Finnish). I write and speak about democracy and openness in the European Union, but increasingly about the crucial challenges of the global era for Europe: growth (EU2020) and the (digital) single market in the making.

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