Schulz: No to EU budget, Yes to free trade with US
The head of the European Parliament has criticised governments for pressuring MEPs into signing off a deal on the EU budget for 2014-2020, but voiced enthusiastic support for free trade talks with the US.
"The so-called compromise on the multi-annual budget negotiated by heads of governments will have no majority in the European Parliament, we will reject it for sure," Martin Schulz said on Monday (25 February) during a debate in Berlin organised by the Atlantic Bridge, a Berlin-based association for German-US cooperation.
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The €960 billion budget was agreed after lengthy negotiations among EU leaders earlier this month, but the European Parliament still has the power to strike it down.
Schulz said capitals are bullying MEPs from their own countries into approving it: "If that kind of government pressure would happen in a national parliament, there would be quite a public outrage. It is borderline undemocratic. And still, we will reject it."
If the parliament rejects the accord, EU leaders go back to square one and the first year, 2014, would most likely be based on the budget for 2013, which would be actually higher than the new agreement.
A veteran in the European Parliament renowned for his vitriolic rhetoric, Schulz is tipped as to be the Social-Democrat candidate for the top job in the European Commission after EU elections next year.
Unlike the current EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, a former prime minister of Portugal, Schulz has never held a government post - he was the mayor of his home town, Wuerselen, close to the German-Dutch border and elected to the European Parliament when he was 39 years old.
Schulz said he is looking forward to the election of the next EU commission chief, who will be no longer selected from the ranks of heads of state and government, but voted by MEPs.
"A president legitimised through EU elections will have much more of a free hand than one who was dependent on his colleagues in the EU council. Since Delors, by the way, all EU commission presidents were former Prime Ministers. Once infected with this virus, you never get rid of it," he said, in reference to the celebrated French EU commission chief Jacques Delors, also a former MEP.
The main problem with the current state of affairs in the European Union is that governments are still thinking in national terms in most policy areas - foreign policy, financial matters - rather than unite for the common good, Schulz noted.
He gave the example of Mali, where the EU had been struggling for years to send in a military training mission.
After two meetings of EU foreign ministers following the French intervention in Mali, the 450-strong mission was finally decided, with 20 countries participating, while seven opted out of it.
"And out of the 20, not all know if they will have a majority in the parliament [to back the decision]. That is the reality of EU foreign policy, even though it affects us all. This is not Europe in command, it is the sum of national decision making processes," Schulz said.
However, one area where Schulz sees a breakthrough in Europe speaking with one voice is the upcoming free trade agreement with the United States.
"The US is not interested in 27 different trade agreements, they want to hear a unified EU position. This project will bring about more integration," he said, noting that it will be the trade commissioner in Brussels negotiating the deal on behalf of all member states.
"If I was the head of the commission I would extend that mandate also to the high representative for foreign policy, who is also vice-president of the commission," Schulz said, in reference to the double-hatted post of Catherine Ashton.
The German politician said he is in favour of the free trade deal with the US because "democracies have to co-operate on an economic level, putting the European social model at the core - labour unions, social rights, no death sentence, no torture, no child labour."
"In other regions these values don't count at all. Of course they are producing cheaper, when you can have child labour for 16 hours a day for 50 cents," Schulz said.
As for a change to the EU treaty in order to bring about more integration, possibly also pan-European voting lists for the European Parliament, Schulz said this is likely to happen in the next four years.
"I am not a visionary, I am a pragmatist. And I am totally convinced that the time will come to decide within the EU institutions if we want to bundle our potential - in the European Parliament, in the EU commission - to force member states to commit," he said.
He said 2017 was most likely the deadline, because by then an intergovernmental treaty on fiscal discipline, which was signed last year by all EU countries, with the exception of Britain and the Czech Republic, has to be incorporated in the EU treaty by 2017.
This is why, Schulz explained, the British Prime Minister also floated 2017 as a referendum date for Britain's membership of the EU.