Open Europe Blog

On Wednesday, European Parliament President Martin Schulz wrote to Irish Deputy Prime Minister Eamon  Gilmore warning him that the latest compromise on the long term EU budget agreed by EU leaders in February would be rejected. Yesterday morning, however, a deal was struck between the two negotiating teams. So had member states suddenly given in to all MEPs’ demands?

Although not all the details are fully clear, it looks as though MEPs have not secured anything substantial above and beyond the compromise they rejected last week.

Retaining unspent funds and ‘flexibility’ – A decent win for MEPs; member states have agreed that rather than taking back unspent funds as before, these can be rolled over to next year’s budget – although a) in recent years there has not been much of a surplus and b) while unlimited unspent funds can be rolled over at the start of the seven year period, this is capped towards the end. There is also scope for moving some cash around between budgetary headings.

Topping up the 2013 annual budget by €11.2bn – A big win for MEPs who demanded payment in full of the additional €11.2bn requested by the Commission to retroactively top-up the 2013 budget (although this is less down to MEPs themselves and more down to the fact that annual budgets are decided under majority voting). So far €7.3bn has been committed despite the UK voting against. This leaves €3.9bn outstanding and Martin Schulz has already warned that if member states renege on this, after MEPs have approved the budget, they will hold hostage the 70 or so individual pieces of implementing legislation for the EU’s long-term budget.

A mid-term review: It looks as though MEPs have secured their demand for a compulsory review mid-way through the seven year budget but crucially it seems all but certain that this will take place under unanimity, not majority voting as MEPs had demanded, a scenario which could potentially have seen the spending limits increased. Intriguingly, this could coincide with a UK referendum should David Cameron still be in Downing Street.

Direct EU budget taxes – A big defeat for MEPs who pushed for a complete overhaul of the “own resources” system which would have seen the introduction of direct EU taxes and the scrapping of the UK and other rebates. This issue is completely left off the Commission’s press release and at a press conference following the agreement, the parliament’s negotiator only mentioned further “debate” on this issue. This was a clear red line for member states.

Extra help for youth unemployment – MEPs have also secured an additional €2.5bn to help combat youth unemployment, although this will be reallocated from existing funds, so it is not new money. Member states will also be able to voluntary commit additional funds in this area if they chose to.

So, despite a huge amount of posturing, overall the threat to veto the agreement proved to be an empty one and many of the MEPs’ key demands were unmet – as we predicted at the time. They will now get two votes on the long term budget – a non-binding one next week and then a binding one come September or October. A lot could still happen between now and then, especially if MEPs decide they want another stab at obtaining further concessions or if member states refuse to pay more money into this year’s budget.

Even though the UK would not have been in a bad position had the parliament vetoed the agreement, politically it is better for David Cameron to be able to point to a concrete cut (as has already been proposed for the 2014 budget) as this adds credibility to his argument that he is able to secure a better deal for the UK in Europe.

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