Battle lines drawn over EU budget

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The battle of wills over the EU's next long-term budget moves to Strasbourg this week where MEPs will begin a series of debates and votes on a deal agreed by member states.

Under an agreement thrashed out at the European council in Brussels last month, EU spending will fall for the first time in its history.

The total of €960bn represents a three per cent reduction from the previous seven-year deal.

Commission president José Manuel Barroso has already cautioned that the assembly is yet to give its approval for the budget.

Under the Lisbon treaty, parliament has 50 per cent co-decision powers within the council on key issues – and some MEPs have vowed to scupper the deal.

They are led by the EPP, S&D and ALDE, the three biggest political groups in parliament, whose leaders have pledged to "fight tooth and nail" to ensure a bigger EU budget than the one agreed at the last EU summit.

Parliament's president Martin Schulz has been another vocal opponent of the draft deal, saying it fails to meet the economic and employment needs of Europe.

EU leaders will meet on Thursday to discuss coordination of member states' economic, fiscal and employment policies under the 'European semester'.

Prior to the meeting, MEPs will debate their priorities for the summit, with the commission and council.

They will also vote on a resolution on last month's summit agreement on the next seven-year EU budget deal, the multiannual financial framework (MFF).

The ECR group has already tabled a resolution aimed at rallying support for the agreement. It says the draft budget from 2013 is "balanced and responsible".

ECR leader Martin Callanan is expected to again argue that although the MFF deal "is not perfect", and that MEPs would be "unwise" to flatly reject it.

The British Tory deputy will also call on other group leaders to "finally bury" the idea of holding the final parliamentary vote on the MFF by a secret ballot.

Callanan says that the spending ceiling of the MFF is only one aspect of future budgeting and called for "efficient and effective" spending which targets funds at the regions and states that "need it most".

The ECR motion also calls for measures to address urgently the "failures" that have led the Court of Auditors consistently to refuse the EU's accounts a clean bill of health because of concerns over potential misspending and lack of transparency.

As well as demanding better management of the budget and spending, the motion calls for the budgeting period to run over five years or less instead of seven.

It states, "This would more closely match the cycle of parliament's elections and commission appointments so that each new administration could be held properly responsible for its own spending."

Speaking ahead of this week's vote, Richard Ashworth, leader of Britain's Conservative MEPs, said, "This was an outstanding deal by our prime minister and a fantastic achievement. It is right for Britain and for Europe.

"Not only does it bring down overall spending by €34bn – and €90bn less than the commission was demanding – but it also manages to boost key spending on competitiveness and research, the areas that will help us out of stagnation. It achieves that by at last diverting money away from agriculture spending, despite the opposition of France and its farmers.

"The question of what the money is spent on is just as important as the overall size of the budget – if not more so. We will be pushing to secure the backing across parliament which the council agreement deserves. In doing so, we will be pressing for a budget which points the EU towards the global challenges of the present and future instead of the problems of the past.

"The national leaders who struck this agreement have each had to seek the approval of their people at the ballot box and will have to do so again. It is not for MEPs to contradict that mandate."

From: http://www.theparliament.com 12/03/2013




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