• Schultz is playing hard ball (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU parliament chief fires warning shot at budget hawks

08.02.13 @ 02:00

  1. By Benjamin Fox
  2. Benjamin email

BRUSSELS - MEPs will hold a secret ballot on any budget deal reached at the EU summit, European Parliament President Martin Schultz warned on Thursday (7 February), in the latest sign that MEPs are prepared to hang tough in talks with governments.

His statement comes as EU leaders remain deadlocked in negotiations over the size of EU 2014-to-2020 spending.

Freeing deputies from the constraints of a public vote increases the likelihood of parliament rejecting a deal.

Under the Lisbon treaty, MEPs must give their say-so for the seven-year budget to be adopted, with an absolute majority required to ratify an agreement.

Secret ballots are typically used for appointments to the European Commission and other EU bodies, but under rule 169 of the parliament's rules of procedure, a secret vote can be held if one fifth of the assembly's 751 deputies demands it.

Schultz said the assembly's political group leaders have already told him that the 151 signatures needed to trigger a secret vote are available.

The leaders of the parliament's four largest groups have also indicated that they would oppose deep cuts to the next EU budget framework.

Schultz noted that government leaders were on the verge of agreeing "the most backward proposal we've ever had for a financial programme."

Any deal reached at the summit would mark the "beginning rather than an end of the process," Schultz warned.

In a blunt exchange with journalists as EU leaders began marathon talks, Schultz indicated that the proposal presented to EU leaders by Council chief Herman van Rompuy amounts to €960 billion in commitments alongside payment appropriations of between €910 billion to €913 billion, adding that parliament would view any such deal with "scepticism".

In a further affront to hawkish advocates of EU budget cuts, such as Germany and the UK, Schultz revealed that EU budget commissioner Janusz Lewandowski will shortly table an emergency proposal for an extra €16 billion to cover shortfalls in the recently agreed budget deal for 2013.

The news comes just over a month after governments and MEPs agreed on a €6 billion supplementary budget to cover unmade payments from 2012.