EU leaders and their entourages are now inside the Justus Lipsius building, sitting down to negotiate the top agenda item of the latest European Council meeting: the EU budget for 2014-2020. Alongside dinner they are also tucking into European Council president Herman Van Rompuy’s latest multi-annual financial framework (MFF) ‘negotiating box’ – a fabled morcel that has been dished up several times now, only to be sent back by dissatisfied elite diners who have griped about its ingredients and the asking price for them and their creditors, namely national taxpayers.
Master chef Van Rompuy and his sous-chefs have been busy since the failed budget summit in November, taking extensive soundings about respective national budgetary palates and tastes. Not surprisingly, the views of the high-rolling bon vivants – chiefly Germany, France and the UK – have received most attention, with nouveau riche Poland also being invited to the top table. In the last week, among others the snubbed Italian guest has been attempting to make its presence felt.
An EU budget to exit the crisis
But perhaps the challenge of squaring disparate tastes for fish and chips and Hungarian goulash explains Van Rompuy’s break out into another safer sector as a means of explaining all things MFF (multi-annual financial framework, the sophisticated way of describing the EU budget, and readily available here on Twitter via #MFF; see also #EUCO for all the summit deliberations).
A European Council Prezi on the MFF negotiating box released this week sought to present the labyrinthine process as a house. This all makes sense, and it’s worth having a look at, especially if you’re an MFF novice.
However, things take a turn for the worse in the closing slides when we get to the segment entitled ‘Around which architect’s plan should the house be built’ – a click on the arrow takes you to … a picture of a negotiating table, featuring mostly men, inside the Justus Lipsius building.
Assuming an MFF deal is reached in the next 24 hours or so – Twitter devotee and Finnish Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade Alexander Stubb has been assessing the chances of a deal this afternoon as 75 percent likely – whose architectural plan is going to win out?
The only clear indication for now is that the bottom is falling out of the EU budget property market. The cuts imperative is centre stage. But what are the foundations looking like for a budget that aspires to deliver for 500 million people living in Europe?
The research and development budget along with the Connecting Europe Facility infrastructure pot look to be in serious jeopardy of succumbing to the cuts agenda, clearly undermining the MFF’s jobs and growth potential. More positively, despite being the main promoter of cuts, the UK appears at least to get the low-carbon potential of the budget, if this recent letter to WWF (pdf) is anything to go by. It has to be hoped that, as laid out by the European Commission, a minimum of 20 percent of the MFF 2014-2020 will end up supporting real measures and projects aimed at tackling climate change.
But how to ensure this? How to make the MFF house actually habitable?
For those gathered in the Justus Lipsius building, here is some news – the MFF game even if resolved tonight (and let’s not forget the European Parliament’s role in all of this) is far from over. Assuming a deal is done amidst the glare of the western media’s flash bulbs in Brussels tonight or tomorrow, there are many more MFF hurdles to leap as we hopefully turn to the national level programming period for the rest of 2013.
But furnishing the respective national EU budget houses would be a somewhat peculiar process if it didn’t involve the people living under said houses.
The European Commission is aware of this. A response letter (pdf) to NGOs in recent weeks is pretty clear about the need for meaningful public governance over future EU spending.
Public glare, scrutiny and input will be essential to make this 2014-2020 budget deliver for the good of Europe, long after the negotiating box is finally sealed. It’s something well worth staying awake for.
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