On Thursday, the finances of the European Union in the years to come is on the table as ministers and state secretaries for European Affairs will meet in Lefkosia (Nicosia) to discuss the ongoing negotiations for the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2014-2020. With members of the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament and the European Commission expected to attend, the importance of the meeting cannot be underestimated..
Vice-President of the European Commission and responsible for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration, Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič, and Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski, responsible for Financial Programming and Budget, will both attend the meeting in Cyprus.
Why is the Informal Meeting of Ministers for European Affairs on Thursday important?
Commissioner Šefčovič: The Informal Meeting of Ministers takes place at a crucial time; the Danish Presidency presented a full version of the Negotiating Box allowing delegations to position themselves on all elements of the negotiation while the Cyprus Presidency organised a series of bilateral meetings in July with all 27 Member States and with Croatia. All elements are therefore on the table to now engage fully in the negotiations in view of reaching an overall compromise on the next MFF package.
What does the Commission hope will be the outcome of the meeting?
Commissioner Šefčovič: The Commission expects the meeting to bring a substantial step forward towards an overall compromise on the MFF package, based on the work done by the previous and the current Presidencies. We hope that the discussions in Nicosia will provide valuable input in helping the Presidency to refine the Negotiating Box for the next stage of this process.
Why is it important to have an agreement by the end of the year?
Commissioner Lewandowski: We are only at the stage of negotiating the overall package. In simple terms, the current negotiations between the 27 Member States are mostly about the table detailing the next financial period (2014-2020): overall figures for all expenditure ceilings (economic growth, agriculture, the EU in the world, etc) and the ways to finance the next financial period. It is only once this overall negotiation is completed that we can start working on the details of and within each policy from regional policy to external action, science and research or agriculture. Such work takes about one year all in all; therefore we would need the agreement on the overall package by December 2012 in order to have everything in place by the time the next period starts, in January 2014. You can compare this to a group of people agreeing to travel together: first they must agree on the destination and the dates of the trip, this is the stage we are at now; only then can they start discussing the means of travel, what they will need to pack, etc.
Last but not least, as the EU budget works as an anti-crisis package, the sooner we have an agreement, the better.
What do you think it would take to reach an agreement by the end of the Cyprus Presidency?
Commissioner Lewandowski: Look, traditionally the negotiations on the MFF are the toughest. It is understandable. After all, the MFF sets expenditure ceilings for all EU policies for the next 7 years, in other words it affects everything the EU will do in those seven years. The sheer width and the budgetary impact of those negotiations explain why they are so complex, plus the fact that an agreement requires unanimity in the Council! I think we should not deceive ourselves, this is a very complex task for the Cyprus Presidency: how to hammer out a deal among 27 Member States while knowing that the European Parliament has to give its agreement as well. However the Cyprus presidency is steering its ship with great skills; step by step we are progressing.
The Cyprus Presidency knows that in order to reach unanimity in the Council, no member state can be left with the impression that it has "lost"; there can be no perceived winners or losers lest you can't reach unanimity. I am confident that the informal meeting of European Affairs ministers will bring important progress.
Bearing in mind the current economic crisis, what are the hopes of the Commission regarding the priorities of the next Multiannual Financial Framework?
Commissioner Lewandowski: We have expressed this in our proposal in June 2011. In short, the next Multiannual Framework must be a key tool to pull Europe out of the crisis. We must take into account the financial constraints of the Member States while focusing on measures that boost sustainable economic growth. We reached the first objective by making a proposal whose overall amount is a real freeze on the 2013 expenditure ceiling, hardly too big an increase as some have stated, and we reached our second objective by freezing the biggest headings in the MFF, namely agriculture and regional policy in order to increase funding for key areas such as infrastructure, science and research, education... I am pleased to say that the 27 Member States seem to agree with our view since on 29 June, the European Council, i.e. the Member States, unanimously called for investment to boost competitiveness; they also adopted the 'Compact for growth and jobs' stating that the EU budget must be a catalyst for growth and jobs across Europe. Indeed, I feel that more and more governments understand that austerity alone will not get us out of the crisis, and the EU budget is a great investment tool. In many areas, one euro spent at EU level can generate 7, 10, sometimes 14 euros simply by attracting private investors and facilitating bank loans.
What would you say about the criticism that the financial framework means ‘more money for Brussels’?
Commissioner Šefčovič: This is wrong. 95 per cent of the EU budget goes directly to the Member States, the regions, the provinces and the municipalities of Europe, as well as to the European citizens and companies. Only 5 per cent of the EU budget is spent on running the EU administration, on translation and interpretation services, on informatics, etc.
What do you think can be the added value of a small member state chairing at this point the negotiations of such an important and complicated dossier?
Commissioner Šefčovič: All Member States are equal in rights and obligations with regard to the EU. Smaller Member States are usually very keen to defend the EU common interest, coordinating well with the Commission. The Cyprus Presidency is very well prepared, fully engaged in the MFF file and is keen to contribute by making a decisive step during its term. It has the full support of the Commission.
Office of the Deputy Minister for European Affairs
Multiannual Financial Framework
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