MEPs attack 'carpet seller' budget deal
By Benjamin Fox
The European Parliament's biggest political faction, the centre-right EPP, Monday denounced the proposed €960 billion EU budget in the clearest sign yet that MEPs may reject the recent deal struck by leaders.
At a specially-convened meeting of MEPs on Monday (18 February), Joseph Daul, a French deputy who has led the EPP group since 2007, accused EU leaders of behaving like "carpet salesmen."
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Speaking of a "dialogue of the deaf", Daul said member states had ignored the EU assembly throughout negotiations on the budget for 2014-2020.
Sixteen of the EU's 27 heads of government, including Germany's Angela Merkel, the bloc's most powerful politician, as well as European Council President Herman van Rompuy, sit in Daul's EPP family. With a delegation boasting 270 MEPs, the EPP is comfortably the largest group in the Parliament.
Addressing deputies, van Rompuy defended the deal. "Together we reached an agreement and it was a good deal for Europe as a whole," he said.
"Belts are being tightened across Europe and the EU could not be an exception," he added, noting that some countries had wanted even further cuts of up to €40 billion.
"More Europe does not necessarily mean more money," he concluded.
The leaders of the Socialist, Liberal and Green groups also lined up to attack the agreement.
Aside from finding it too small, they also pointed to the €51.5 billion gap between commitments and expected payments. Deputies claim that the funding gap breaches Article 323 of the EU treaty, which forbids the bloc from running a budget deficit.
Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt described the budget as a "copy and paste" job from the current 2007-2013 budget accord. "Last time we needed 41 rebates and exceptions, now we need 53 rebates, exceptions, derogations, earmarks to buy the support of the member states," he said.
Following over 24 hours of painstaking talks, leaders agreed to a deal consisting of €959.9 billion in commitments and €908.4 billion in payments.
The spending package represents a 3 per cent cut on the current 7-year budget, while the commitments figure translates as precisely 1 percent of the EU's gross national income.
Deputies are likely to vote on the governments' deal during the next Strasbourg plenary session in March, and are set do so by secret ballot. Under the parliament's rules, a secret ballot is triggered if 151 of the MEPs request it.
Observers believe that a secret vote would limit the capacity of national governments to put pressure on their MEPs. The European Parliament must approve any budget deal with an absolute majority of MEPs.
The threat to hold a secret vote was denounced by British conservative Martin Callanan who stated that it would make the assembly a "laughing stock". Callanan, who leads the eurosceptic ECR group, was a lone voice in praising the deal, which he described as "a sensible and pragmatic compromise".
Meanwhile, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso offered only qualified support for the budget deal, commenting that the "disappointing reduction" was the result of the "balance struck between a majority of member states who had supported the commission and some net contributor countries who wanted deeper cuts."
He admitted that without a string of flexibility mechanisms, the commission would run out of money.
"Without maximum flexibility, the (budget) simply cannot take place", he said. The commission wants to have the right to shift money across different budget headings ensure that funds for unmade payments are carried over to the next year."
Currently, all unspent monies are given back to national governments.