EU budget: ‘phantom arguments’ should not take away from sustainable future
20 November 2012, New Europe
Wrangling between EU member states over the budget is weakening Europe at a time when it needs strength to compete in a globalised world, campaigners are warning.
EU heads of state and government gather on 22 and 23 November to try and hammer out a deal on the EU’s budget, the multi-annual framework (MFF), which sets out spending priorities for the period 2014-2020.
Member states are currently split on the make-up of the MFF, with some countries, such as the Uk and Sweden asking for cuts of up to 20% in the current proposal, and others asking for a larger budget allocation.
The European Commission initially proposed €1 trillion budget for the seven-year period, which was countered by a proposal by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who proposed a €75 million cut to that figure. The European Parliament vote tomorrow (21 November) on the council’s proposal, with early indications that they will reject it.
With member states currently jostling for position ahead of the leaders’ summit, the focus on sectoral cuts is, says Markus Trilling, EU Funds Co-ordinator for Bankwatch and Friends of the Earth Europe., a “phantom discussion”. Speaking to New Europe, he said that the focus instead has to be on quality spending.
Cohesion policy, one of the thorny issues, along with the common agricultural policy (CAP), can be, he says, something “that triggers economies that are sustainable in the long run; that is, socially, economically, environmentally sustainable”.
Current regulations, he says, set out nine objectives for cohesion policy, but “coming from Brussels, they are only black ink on paper”. Member states, where the strategic decisions still lie, need to take a strong political lead. The next year-and-a-half will be extremely important for member states in this regard, with programming already having started.
Trilling admits to getting “different signals on different spending plans” from member states. Fr example, he says, Bulgaria wants to build six new motorways, while in the Czech Republic, they want to build 11 new waste incinerators between now and 2020, when the legislation changes. “This is an investment in infrastructure that will last for decades. In fact, it is a good example of bad spending; they have to feed those incinerators for those next decades, rather than invest in sustainable waste policies”.
“The economic crisis has has a two-fold reaction from member states”, adds Sébastien Godinot, Economist at WWF European Policy Office. “While there are those, like Portugal, who want to do something smarter, the dominant way is ‘we have to re-start the short-term economic growth, then we will see later about social and environmental aspects’”.
“Roads, for example, have nothing to do with sustainability, they are locking European citizens into a high-carbon path. Europe will be less resilient to disasters, and more dependable on imports”, he says. “This is weakening Europe, and this is exactly hat member states should avoid”. He says that focussing on a sustainable future will “have a better impact on job creation locally”, rather than continuing to rely on energy imports.
“Obviously, we are shining green here”, says Markus Trilling, “but if you take a step back, we are also focussing on the modernisation of industry. “It is not just about the protection of the environment any more, but a way to deal with globalisation. It is about bringing Europe to a point where it can survive globally. It is a 21st century agenda”.
Institution: EU Funds