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12th Apr 2024

MEPs defend budget increase in time of austerity

  • MEPs made the call during a plenary session in the Strasbourg hemicycle (Photo: European Parliament)

MEPs have voted by a vast majority to increase next year's EU budget by 5.9 percent, a move they define as "responsible" despite government spending cuts in member states.

The increase on the 2010 budget is marginally lower than the one initially proposed by the European Commission earlier this year, but substantially higher than the 2.9 percent supported by a majority of member states.

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"The European Parliament has acted with a great sense of responsibility," said European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek on Wednesday (20 October) after the legislature refrained from pushing the commission's figure upwards, as is usually the case.

The 2011 EU budget proposed by MEPs would include €142.65 billion in commitments and €130.14 billion in payments. The negotiations are the first to take place under the new Lisbon Treaty format, handing parliament a greater say and allowing for only one reading.

From 27 October, member state and parliament negotiators will have three weeks to agree a joint text, with the issue set to feature prominently on the agenda of an EU leaders' summit in Brussels next week (28-29 October). Failure to do so would result in the continuation of the 2010 budget and likely disruption.

Sidonia Jedrzejewska, the MEP charged with steering the draft budget through parliament, said a smaller spending pot made no sense, especially at a time when the EU was being asked to do more under the Lisbon Treaty.

"The budget of the EU is not similar to a national budget, it is oriented towards investment and is a tool for fighting the crisis. I hope we will have an open and direct dialog with the Council [representing member states]," she said after the vote.

Conservative MEPs have slammed the called-for increase as outrageous under the current economic environment.

"We could argue that increasing the EU budget is naked short-term populism, but I doubt it is that popular in many countries," said Hungarian centre-right MEP Lajos Bokros. "Increased quantity does not mean increased quality."

Apart from the requested budgetary increase, several other factors are to make for difficult talks with member states.

In a bid to stay within multi-annual guidelines, the euro-deputy proposal seeks spending reductions in an number of areas of importance to national capitals, including an experimental nuclear fusion project (Iter).

MEPs have also attempted to tie agreement of the 2011 budget to the opening of discussions on EU "own resources" in the future, a previously taboo subject broken by the commission earlier this week in its "budget review."

A number of member states have already come out against the commission's proposed list of potential EU self-funding mechanisms that includes an EU tax on aviation and an EU sales tax. Paris declared it was "utterly inappropriate," London said that it would refuse to consider any new tax, and Berlin similarly refused to consider any of the proposals.

MEPs have indicated however that starting talks on the own resources element is a "full part of the overall agreement on the 2011 budget."

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