Long-term budget negotiations are getting down to the wire, and they're getting tense. Member states, particularly from Northern Europe, are uneasy about having to sell an EU budget increase to their voters at a time that national budgets are being cut.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has even demanded a €250 billion cut from the EU's financial framework (MFF) for 2014-2020, threatening to veto the entire budget if he doesn't get his way. There have been rumblings from the German government that they could cancel the next summit unless Cameron backs down from what many on the continent consider an absurd demand.
But even if not all member state positions are as extreme as Cameron's, the fact is there is an overriding urge to cut. And one area member states seem to have set their sights on is the Commission's proposed increased funding for cross-border infrastructure projects, the Connecting Europe Facility.
The Commission has proposed to allocate €50 billion for these projects over the next ten years to boost cross-border transport, energy and telecoms networks. It would also put these projects firmly under EU control and coordination.
Investment in these three areas has tended to stop at the border because of the nationalised nature of utilities. So, we have a European fast train “network” that doesn't connect countries (witness how high speed trains still stop at Perpignan and Girona, constituting an almost absurd 90km gap). High-capacity power lines are missing between countries and national grids are not connected, meaning that excess wind and solar power generated in Spain or Germany is wasted because it cannot be transferred to meet the energy needs of neighbouring countries. Even broadband connections are woefully lacking between European countries. National utilities have been loathe to build the connections themselves, and they also haven't worked very well with their counterparts.
The blame for this lies squarely in the national capitals. Yet rather than acknowledge this failure and express appreciation for the EU stepping in to get these projects done, member states have complained about the loss of sovereignty over these projects and are now looking to cut the intended funding.
Yesterday a group of CEOs wrote to European heads of state asking them to back the proposed €50 billion budget for the Connecting Europe Facility when it is discussed in November. “At a time when the global marketplace is becoming ever more competitive, Europe simply cannot afford to delay investments in its infrastructure,” they wrote. “We need to connect to compete.” The CEOs come from companies including Maersk, Airbus, Volvo and the Port of Rotterdam. Members of the public can also sign a declaration calling for member states to maintain the funding.
MEPs have already backed the proposal, so it now lies with member states. Though national capitals seem ready to slash the funds and demand more national control, they don't seem to have any ideas about how to improve their dismal performance so far in investing in cross-border projects.
If national leaders don't think this is the EU's role, or they don't think EU funding should be allocated to it, I wonder who they think will do it?
Dave Keating reports on the interrelated issues of environment, energy, climate change, transport, health, agriculture, fisheries and research for European Voice. In this blog, Dave brings you insights into the sometimes byzantine world of European Union policymaking as well as the equally confusing nature of life in Brussels. Originally from outside New York City, Dave has lived in Europe for six years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.