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
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
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
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.
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