Thursday

23rd May 2019

EU council puts down marker on budget cuts

  • The new EU summit chamber, designed to accommodate 'several more enlargements' (Photo: samynandpartners.be)

The EU Council is planning to cut its €540 million internal budget by 4.4 percent in 2012 in a move causing potential embarrassment for the European Parliament.

The council unveiled its decision at a meeting of EU diplomats last week. It is set to see 20 job cuts and less money spent on interpreters and travel expenses.

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Its secretary general, Pierre de Boissieu, in a letter to the Hungarian EU presidency dated 7 March and seen by this website, said: "I am acutely aware of the difficult economic situation in member states and of the important efforts under way to consolidate national finances. It is my view that the European institutions must rally to this effort."

He added: "I assume the other institutions will also follow this overall approach to budgetary discipline."

The council decision comes after budget commissioner Janusz Lewandowski in February called for EU institutions to limit growth in 2012 expenses to 1 percent.

The European Commission's own numbers are due out on 20 April, but Lewandowski spokesman Patrizo Fiorilli has said he is sure the commission's various departments will fall in line.

The European Parliament's budget committee is due to vote on its proposal on Thursday (24 March).

Parliament spokesman Ron Korver said the assembly is likely to go for an increase on its €1.7 billion kitty based on average EU inflation, calculated at between 2 percent and 2.7 percent, and to say that this is a freeze in real terms.

The move will entail some cuts, with MEPs talking about a €7 million communications campaign and a new office that was to have examined if EU legal proposals give 'added value' as potential savings.

It will also involve some accounting abracadabra. MEPs earlier this month voted themselves €1,500 more each month in staff and office expenses, worth €13.3 million a year. Korver said this is not an increase because the extra money was already in the 2011 budget but it was "frozen" in a reserve and will now be "unfrozen."

The European External Action Service is still preparing its 2012 estimate.

In terms of general frugality, its €10-million-a-year-rent new building on the Schuman roundabout in Brussels will stand empty in 2011 while the landlord kits it out for diplomats. But spokeswoman Maja Kocjancic said the rent payments will only begin once it is fully ready.

A council source noted that: "Parliament likes to say it needs more funds because of its new duties under the Lisbon Treaty. But we have had one of the biggest Lisbon adjustments due to the arrival of Herman Van Rompuy and we are funding it through internal efficiencies."

Van Rompuy's egg

The council is currently constructing a new building to house Van Rompuy and to host future EU summits and mega-meetings, such as EU-Asean and EU-Africa-Union summits.

The building is to cost "well under" €300 million and to be ready in late 2013, meaning Van Rompuy will only use it if he goes for a second term as EU Council president.

It will look like a giant glass egg, symbolising transparency. Inside, a modular structure will mean that extra summit seating, offices and translation booths can be tacked on to accommodate "several more EU enlargements."

EU leaders will in future arrive through an underground tunnel below the Rue de la Loi to be built by Brussels authorities. In security terms, the building will be designed to withstand "car bombs and various projectiles" despite its glassy surface.

The council source said an initial blueprint spoke of using "materielles nobles." But the words spooked officials in the current crisis atmosphere, with more prosaic materials to be used instead.

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