Tuesday

14th Aug 2018

Political conditions for EU funds prompt debate

  • Warsaw. Some in the EU want to link access to cohesion funds to the respect of the rule of law, for instance in Poland. (Photo: Jorge Lascar)

Negotiations for the 2021-2027 EU budget will start only next year, but amidst a revenue shortfall due to Brexit and tensions over some member states' behaviour, the question of putting more conditions on cohesion funds has come to the forefront.

With the UK leaving the EU, the bloc's budget will have a 10 to 11-billion hole to fill each year, the EU budget commissioner, Günther Oettinger, pointed out on Monday (26 June).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • "We can't shy away from this question," said EU budget commissioner Guenter Oettinger. (Photo: European Commission)

At the same time, the EU will have to spend more on "new tasks that make sense to do at EU level", such as managing EU borders or taking refugees, he said.

Oettinger was speaking at the Cohesion Forum in Brussels, where the issue was debated, two days before the European Commission presents its ideas on the future of EU finances - on Wednesday.

In the EU budget, cohesion policy is an important part, financially as well as politically. At almost €360 billion, it represents around a third of the current 2014-2020 budget.

"Given our huge ambitions in this EU project, let me put this tactfully, the sums we are talking about are quite modest," Karl-Heinz Lambertz, the first vice-president of the European Committee of the Regions, said in a meeting earlier on Monday.

He insisted that while the EU needs a "stronger" cohesion policy, "the financial dimension is important, but also the underlying principles."

The debate about which principles should determine which cohesion funds are distributed was launched after some EU countries refused to apply EU "solidarity" during the 2015-2016 refugee crisis. 

It was also triggered by concerns about the rule of law in Poland and Hungary and was heated up further by the prospect of less funding being available after Brexit.

'Sensitive domain'

Oettinger, in a press conference last month, said that the EU commission would present "questions and options" about a possible link between the "cohesion programme and rule of law".

On Monday, however, he said that while "we can't shy away from this question", it is not "in the commission's mandate" to answer it.

"It's a sensitive domain," he added.

Germany, the biggest contributor to the EU budget, has also raised the threat of linking access to EU funds to respect for the rule of law.

In a recent document outlining its position on cohesion policy after 2020, the German government said that "it would be worth exploring the possibility of making EU cohesion funding subject to compliance with the basic principles underpinning the rule of law."

On Monday, a German official said that there is "nothing specific on this as yet".

Kirsten Scholl, deputy director general for European Affairs at the German economy ministry, said that "various tools" exist at the EU level to deal with concerns over the rule of law, and that cutting cohesion funds in case of problems is only "an aspect that we are discussing".

Seen from the Committee of the Regions' perspective, making cohesion funds dependent on the rule of law or participation in refugee relocation schemes is a non-starter.

"I believe this is not possible legally," said Michael Schneider, the committee's rapporteur on the future of cohesion policy beyond 2020.

He pointed out that two-thirds of the committee's delegates "decided not to open that Pandora’s box", when the Italian delegation put forward a proposition to cut funds to countries that do not take asylum seekers.

'Not a charity'

"We believe that this type of measure runs counter to the principles of cohesion policy," he insisted. "If a member state does not respect rules, and then cohesion funds are withheld, you are not punishing the national government but the cities and regions, which might disagree with the national government."

"Cohesion policy is not a charity. It is more like a constitutional right to ensure cohesion, added Schneider, who is a German centre-right European People's Party (EPP) politician, like Oettinger and German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Another proposed condition to receive EU funds seems to be less controversial, however.

In its position paper, Germany says that respect of the commission's economic recommendations should be taken into account before dispatching funds.

This would "create an additional incentive for member states to comply with the recommendations and also result in better link between EU cohesion policy … and the relevant country-specific recommendations," it said.

This was echoed by Oettinger, as well as EU commission vice-president Jyrki Katainen.

In a speech also at the Cohesion Forum, he said that cohesion policy should "incentivise structural reforms".

"We would seek to find ways that support structural reforms by providing positive incentives to member states," he said.

EU mulls post-Brexit budget options

EU seeks novel ways to plug a Brexit-based budget hole of up to €11 billion, but income from fines, such as the one on Google, cannot be relied on.

Interview

Poland ready to be EU budget net contributor

Poland would accept increasing its contribution, but will oppose any politicisation of EU funds, says its deputy minister of economic development.

Investigation

EU Commission paying too much for iPhones and IT

EUobserver has obtained internal documents and emails from within the European Commission that outline questionable contracts with outside suppliers who appear to be overcharging for goods and services.

News in Brief

  1. Malta to allow Aquarius migrants to disembark
  2. Juncker sends condolences over Genoa bridge collapse
  3. EU pledges €500,000 more for Indonesian earthquake island
  4. EU commission in talks with states on new Aquarius migrants
  5. Man held after car crashes into UK parliament security barrier
  6. Brexit delays better readability of medicines' instructions
  7. Masked youths set dozens of cars alight in Sweden
  8. Spain and Italy refuse new Aquarius-rescued migrants

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  2. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  3. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  4. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  5. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  6. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  8. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  12. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma

Latest News

  1. EU commission steps up legal case against Poland
  2. Separation of powers instead of 'Spitzenkandidat' process
  3. Revealed: ExxonMobil's private dinner with Cyprus' top EU brass
  4. What Salvini teaches us about Operation Sophia
  5. 14 lobbyist meetings with Oettinger and Canete went unminuted
  6. UK poll suggests Brits would now vote Remain
  7. Some EU states face delays in 5G preparation
  8. Nordic and Baltic farmers urgently need EU support

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  4. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  6. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  8. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  9. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  12. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us