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Lewandowski in bid for compromise on 2012 top-up request

By Toby Vogel   -  12.11.2012 / 17:28 CET
Compromise needed to unblock talks on budget for 2013; negotiations to resume on Tuesday.
Janusz Lewandowski, the European commissioner for financial programming and budget, is attempting to break the deadlock over the European Union's budget for 2013 with a proposal to carry some of the extra money he had requested under the current budget over into next year.  

Lewandowski made his proposal at the end of contentious negotiations on Friday (9 November) which broke down when both the member states and the European Parliament refused to budge. The talks are to resume tomorrow evening (13 November), ahead of a midnight deadline.  

Lewandowski's proposal might allow both the European Parliament and the member states to claim victory.  

The Parliament's negotiators have insisted that the Commission's top-up request of €9 billion be approved by the member states before substantive negotiations on the 2013 budget can start. Splitting the additional money between 2012 and 2013 could pave the way for proper negotiations on next year's budget.  

A blocking minority of member states has accused the Commission of inflating the need for top-up money under the 2012 budget. If the additional money in 2012 is reduced to €7.4bn, this would be an implicit acknowledgment from the Commission that its initial request had been too high. The €1.4bn carried over into 2013 would, at the same time, count toward the overall figure for the 2013 budget and therefore in effect translate into lower spending than requested by the Commission.  

If the €1.4bn are added to the Council's version for the 2013 budget, the overall figure would rise from €132.7bn to €134.1bn – much closer to the Council's version than the Commission's, which foresees €137.92bn in payments.  

However, a diplomat warned that the EU's budget hawks, including the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, were seeking deeper cuts to the 2012 top-up request.  

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the new Dutch finance minister, said about the Commission's assertion that it will not be able to pay for ongoing EU programmes unless the top-up is approved: “I'd question that very much.”

He said that Commission would have to “reprioritise”. “That is just the way it is,” he said. “Budgetary discipline is not just for the member states.”

Three-way budget talks between the Commission, MEPs and national budget ministers broke down in acrimony on Friday (9 November).   

While the European Parliament has been backing the Commission in its demand for a higher 2013 budget, MEPs were angered by Lewandowski's tactics during eight hours of talks on Friday. Lewandowski conceded at the end of the day that around €1.4bn from his top-up request might not be needed until next year, undermining the position of the Parliament's negotiators, led by Alain Lamassoure, a centre-right French MEP who chairs the Parliament's budgets committee.  

Lamassoure said after the breakdown of the talks that MEPs needed time to study the Commission's new figures.  

Diplomats suggested that the €1.4bn were not needed during 2012 because the Commission had not yet been able to ascertain the regularity of the spending. A spokesman for the Commission confirmed today (12 November) that some of the money is under investigation.  

Another Commission request that remains blocked as long as there is no agreement on the 2013 budget concerns €670 million in earthquake aid for Italy.  

Mario Monti, Italy's prime minister (and a former European commissioner), called José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, at the weekend to share his concern that the money has still not been approved.  

Member states and MEPs agreed in principle to unblock the funds as quickly as possible, but that agreement is dependent on an agreed overall package on the 2012 top-up.  

Lewandowski's spokesman said that this was a “technical problem” because neither the overall figure nor the need for EU earthquake aid has been challenged.
© 2014 European Voice. All rights reserved.

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