31st Mar 2023

European Parliament's budget veto option lacks bite

EU officials on Tuesday (6 December) threatened the UK presidency that the European Parliament could use its budget veto option, but the threat seems to lack substance.

Conservative MEP leader Hans-Gert Pottering indicated the European Parliament's "agreement is required before the financial perspectives can come into force".

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The cool words refer to the fact that the commission and the parliament must sign off on any "gentleman's agreement" between member states on 2007-2013 spending.

"The final outcome must be acceptable to member states, it must be acceptable to parliament", commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said.

The thinly-veiled threat follows a torrent of criticism against UK presidency plans to shave €25 billion from the next EU budget, €14 billion of which would come from new members' pockets.

UK says: butt out

London made it clear on Monday that Brussels has no real say in EU financial planning, however.

"Own resources has always been solely up to member states. It's the taxpayer who pays", UK foreign minister Jack Straw said.

"The European Parliament is not a parliament that can sustain a government, much less make demands on revenue", he added.

UK Europe minister Douglas Alexander said EU citizens would react with "misapprehension" if a poltical deal ended up being sunk by an "interinstitutional wrangle."

The commission takes a more literal interpretation of "own resources" however, with officials on Tuesday saying that sugar and farm import duties, as well as a chunk of member states' VAT, are theirs by EU law.

Lack of will to veto deal

If Brussels uses the veto option, the budget would be negotiated on an annual basis using 2006 spending levels as a guide.

The prospect horrifies diplomats and civil servants alike who face the possibility of squabbling over cash every year instead of every seven years.

But it remains doubtful the veto option will be used.

Mr Laitenberger said that there is still hope the UK will back down on cuts. He made it clear the commission sees itself as a tool of politicial pressure not as a legal agent in the budget process, despite its own veto powers.

"Living with something and liking something are two different things", a senior commission official added.

On the parliament side, spokesmen for socialist leader Martin Schulz and liberal leader Graham Watson were also sceptical about the wisdom of vetoing a deal.

"If the new member states can accept it [the UK proposal] then who are we to say otherwise?", Mr Watson's spokesman indicated.

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