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24th Jan 2021

Progress in rush to secure EU budget before Christmas

  • Failure to agree a budget would see this year's figures rolled over on a month-by-month basis (Photo: EUobserver)

A series of compromises and a new draft of next year's EU budget has increased optimism that member states and the European Parliament can reach a deal on the 2011 spending plan before Christmas. But parliament's call for a role in discussions over the bloc's next multi-annual budget (post 2013) could still scupper a final accord.

Friday's publication (26 November) of the draft 2011 EU budget by the European Commission, several days earlier than previously expected, follows a breakdown in conciliation talks a fortnight ago, with the fresh plan largely based on what the two sides had agreed up to that point.

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"We are speeding up [the publication] in order to raise the chances of having a budget by 1 January 2011," EU budget commissioner Janusz Lewandowski told journalists at a news conference in Brussels.

A day earlier, member-state diplomats agreed to drop previous calls for unanimity voting on decisions to transfer money between EU budget headlines. Parliament has made the greater level of spending flexibility, provided by member state qualified majority voting, a key demand in the ongoing battle over the 2011 EU budget.

"Very important progress has recently been achieved with the agreement ... on a genuine flexibility mechanism," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a letter to the head of the parliament, Jerzy Buzek, and Belgian Prime Minister Ives Leterme on Friday.

"A balanced solution on the additional financing needs of [EU nuclear fusion project] ITER has been secured as well," he added.

Under the flexibility agreement, money amounting to a maximum of 0.03 percent of the bloc's gross national income can be moved between budgetary spending headings, as is already the case.

The mechanism has been used in the past to top up projects that overshoot previous forecasts, including the EU's Galileo satellite navigation system, where German opposition would have halted the extra funding had a unanimity system been in place.

Officials from all sides will next meet on 7 December to discuss the budget draft, in a bid to enable a parliamentary vote on the final version at its 15 December plenary session, the last of the year.

Sources say Mr Barroso's announcement this week to come forward with proposals on EU 'own resources' in June 2011 has enabled both parliament and member states to claim victory on the controversial issue by breaking the link with the 2011 budget debate but ensuring future discussion on the subject.

Now the parliament's demand for a role in discussions over the EU's post-2013 multi-annual budget remains the main outstanding stumbling block.

MEPs insist they are allowed a greater say under the Lisbon Treaty, while national capitals have appeared reluctant to hand the legislature a greater role in the already complex negotiations.

If decision on this issue is left to European leaders meeting in Brussels for a summit on 16-17 December, parliamentary approval could be kicked to an extraordinary session just days before Christmas. Total failure to reach a deal between the two sides will see this year's EU budget rolled over into 2011 on a month-by-month basis.

"The [agenda of the] European summit is very heavy and we shouldn't contribute one more point. This is also aim of Belgian EU presidency," said Mr Lewandowski.

EU officials are now frantically searching for suitable wording over the multi-annual budget to enable both sides to walk away with their heads up, with Britain and the Netherlands among those most opposed to parliament's efforts to increase its role.

"Given that it's in the treaty I can't imagine that member states would hijack the whole deal just for this," said one parliamentary official.

"But I don't know what's in the UK agenda. Maybe for them it would be okay to roll over the 2010 budget, but I think for the Dutch it would be a step too far."

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