Deal on longterm EU budget after last-minute talks
By Honor Mahony
EU negotiators Thursday reached a last-minute political agreement on the 2014-2020 budget, sparing the EU the embarrassing prospect of hosting a jobs-focused summit without being able to commit money to fighting unemployment.
Following torturous negotiations over recent weeks, officials announced a breakthrough just hours before leaders come to Brussels for their June summit.
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"This is a good deal for Europe," said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
Martin Schulz, European Parliament President, said it was an "acceptable outcome" although he added that he will have to "fight" to gain the absolute majority of MEPs needed to pass the budget.
The main sticking points concerned how the money would be spent as the actual sum - €908 billion in payments agreed in February by member states - was not up for negotiation.
MEPs, who lamented the size of the overall sum, were keen to make sure all the money is used, with around €55bn from the current longterm budget unspent or used elsewhere.
"The goal of the European parliament was how to make sure that the €908 billion foreseen are really available," said Schulz.
"With the mechanism we just agreed, the European Parliament is sure that the €908 billion will be available and spent. And we need it."
MEPs also managed to secure a "binding" revision clause, something Schulz termed "one of the biggest (steps of) progress we made."
They also secured a promise from the commission to look into making the budget cycle a five-year one, in line with the mandate of the EU institutions.
For his part, Barroso noted that the deal includes "frontloading of expenditure on critical issues like youth employment, research, Erasmus (the student exchange programme) and SMEs."
The agreement will allow leaders at their summit to say that €6 billion should immediately be spent on tackling youth unemployment, the major social issue facing governments across the bloc.
The deal must be passed unanimously by member states and an absolute majority of MEPs.
"I am confident that we can bring all the member states with us on this," said Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland, heading the negotiations for governments.
Schulz said he would recommend to political group leaders that the budget is put to plenary next week. "I must fight for a majority," he said.
Part of the deal rests on member states agreeing to cover the holes in the budget for 2013, something they have pledged to do by 9 July at the latest.
"This is mutual trust," said Schulz, who noted that if governments reneged on this part of the bargain, and parliament had voted to accept the 2014-2020 budget framework then work on the 72 pieces of legislation needed to get the budget up and running would immediately be "suspended."