While all eyes will be on George Osborne and Ed Balls this afternoon, the EU Commission has slipped out its draft annual budget for 2014. This is important as it the first budget to be drawn up using the reduced expenditure limits (or ‘ceilings’ in EU-speak) agreed by David Cameron and other EU leaders in February. However, the European Parliament so far refused to sign off on these, so they remain provisional for the moment (more on this later). Here is our breakdown of the content of the budget according to the good, the bad and the ugly, continuing an earlier OE tradition.
Compared with 2013, there’s a cut to the 2014 EU budget. The headline figure is a cut in both commitments and payments from €151.6bn and €144.5bn down to €142bn and €135.9bn respectively. This is a 6% cut in commitments and a 5.8% cut in payments. This is clearly a win for David Cameron who was mandated by parliament to secure a real terms cut in spending, but is also not all what it seems to be (see below). Next year’s savings would be even lower if not for the fact some spending – such as the new €6bn youth unemployment initiative – is being ‘front loaded’ onto this years’ budget.
Some particularly wasteful spending has been cut, for example the commitments on ‘Communication actions’ defined as spending aimed at “increasing the interest, understanding and involvement of citizens in the EU integration and policy-making process” has been cut by 20%.
Somewhat bizarrely, the above savings have only materialised because a lot of money has been added onto the 2013 annual budget via a number of ‘amending budgets’ (a favourite tool for the EP and Commission) – increasing the total from €132.8bn to €144.5bn. If not for this additional cash, we would have seen an overall increase in 2014. While some of this additional spending can be justified – for example to accommodate Croatia – many believe that the bulk has been requested by the Commission simply to use up all the available money left under the current long-term budget rather than because it corresponds to an actual need for funds.
The European Parliament has made payment in full of this amount a pre-condition for agreeing to the 2014-2020 budget, and so far most of it has been pledged by member states (although the UK was recently outvoted on committing an additional €7.3bn of the additional funds requested as annual budgets are decided by QMV, not unanimity). In total, €3.9bn remains outstanding, so taking this off the total means we only have a reduction of 3.2%.
The substance of the budget remains broadly unreformed with the bulk of the budget still going towards distorting farm subsidies and regional development subsidies for wealthier member states (although the proportion of the latter has been reduced). In fairness overall spending on the CAP has decreased by 2.3%, but the amount going on farm subsidies tied to land ownership or production levels (the new CAP rules allow some re-coupling) will go up by 0.3%.
Administrative spending is set to go up again by 1.5% overall. The table below gives the full breakdown:
- While the drop in spending on European Schools is welcome, many of the other headings see increases at a time when the EU should be busting a gut to cut down on administrative spending, as member states have been for the last couple of years.
- The Commission has made some cut backs but due to salary increases of 0.9% it sees a 0.1% increase (or 0.8% increase when including cost of Croatia’s accession).
- Spending on EU officials’ pensions has also increased by 7.2% due to the number of staff retiring ahead of the entry into force of the new Staff Regulations. This highlights the need to make further and more urgent progress on making EU expenditure on former officials’ pensions sustainable.
- While the Court of Auditors, an institution that often flags up EU waste and mismanagement, sees its budget cut by 4.2%, the European Parliament sees its budget go up by 1.7% despite the fact that it has not committed to reducing its headcount unlike other institutions. This news comes the day after we highlighted a video of two MEPs pushing and shoving a journalist who had the nerve to challenge them for allegedly signing in to claim to their daily allowance before ‘sodding off’ straight away.
- Spending on the EU’s ‘decentralised agencies’ which form the bulk of the EU’s 52 quangos are set to receive a 3.8% increase while the European and Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions see a 0.2% cut and a 0.3% increase respectively despite the fact that these organisations are outdated, with no evidence of their usefulness whatsoever.
- While expenditure on the EU’s external policies (aid and development) sees a fairly substantial cut of 8.2%, for some reason the institution that manages this expenditure – Baroness Ashton’s External Action Service – has been awarded a 3.2% increase. In contrast the FCO sees an 8% cut in todays spending review.
The deal all rests on the European Parliament agreeing to the 2014 – 2020 MFF otherwise the 2014 budget will revert to 2013 ceilings + 2% for inflation. While this would not be an awful result for the UK mainly because of the security guaranteed by the rebate (see here for details), it would nonetheless most probably not result in an actual cut, thereby undermining David Cameron’s claim to have achieved a degree of EU reform by cutting the budget for the first time in EU history.
Meanwhile, MEPs’ initial responses don’t exactly inspire confidence…
Open Europe blog team
The EU budget proposal of the Commission for 2014 is again supporting the recession and unemployment instead fighting it.
— Hannes Swoboda (@Hannes_Swoboda) June 26, 2013