Budget talks and Italian elections frame this WEEK in the EU
By Honor Mahony
MEPs will have their first official chance to vent their anger at the proposed long term EU budget on Monday (18 February) when they discuss the issue with the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council.
The deputies already indicated their displeasure through a flurry of statements directly after EU leaders agreed the €960 billion budget for 2014-2020. They argue the budget is too small and places too much emphasis on policies that do not stimulate economic growth.
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If there is no absolute majority of MEPs in favour of the budget deal, EU leaders in theory have to go back to the drawing board. Member states and the commission have already privately appealed to deputies to be pragmatic with a summit deal only reached after bitter negotiations.
The budget deal will also feature during a meeting of the European Parliament agriculture committee on Thursday. As part of the overall budget agreement, several member states were promised certain sweeteners when it comes to farm subsidies. But MEPs could still upset the balance if they choose to unravel parts of the agreement.
European Central Bank president Mario Draghi will on Monday appear before the economic and monetary affairs committee for a regular discussion with deputies.
The meeting will come against the backdrop of ongoing negotiations on a bailout for Cyprus and one day after presidential elections on the island. It also comes after France made several statements about the need for the eurozone to have an exchange rate mechanism.
Defence and military issues will feature several times in the parliament over the week. Maciej Popowski, deputy secretary general of the EU's diplomatic service, will appear before the defence committee on Wednesday.
The same committee will hear the Polish and Swedish foreign ministers the following day.
Meanwhile, Pierre Vimont, secretary general of the diplomatic service, will on Tuesday give an update on Mali following France's military intervention.
Internal issues are on the agenda too.
MEPs in the constitutional committee will Tuesday take a look at how many deputies each member state should have after the 2014 elections when the assembly will have 751 deputies, down from the current 754 and taking into account the accession of Croatia, due this summer.
Seats in the parliament are the subject of furious tussles as much for their symbolic importance to countries as well for the real powers MEPs have as co-legislators.
Foreign ministers on Monday are expected to have a discussion on Syria, with the EU's arms embargo running out at the end of this month. Some countries want to arm the rebels after the embargo ends, but there is no broad agreement on this.
Ministers are set to extend sanctions - including adding more people, entities and imposing bank sanctions - on North Korea following its nuclear test.
Zimbabwe's sanctions list is also on the table. According to EU diplomats, some people and companies are likely to be removed from the visa ban and assets freeze register as part of efforts to encourage democratic reform.
Economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn will on Friday publish the economic forecast for 2013, amid predictions by experts that the eurozone crisis is far from over.
At the end of the week attention will turn to Italy, holding elections for the first time since autumn 2011 when Silvio Berlusconi stepped down and was replaced by technocrat and former EU commissioner Mario Monti.
A centre-left coalition led by the Democratic Party, itself headed by former minister Pier Luigi Bersani, has regularly topped the polls. But Silvio Berlusconi, three times a prime minister, is not out of the picture - a scenario that horrifies Brussels, which blames him for leading the country to the economic precipice by a frivolous approach to reforms.