Fabian Demicoli

MEPs approve EU’s long-term budget


The European
Parliament has given its final approval to the European Union's long-term
budget and its budget for next year, ending months of often ill-tempered
negotiations with the member states. MEPs in Strasbourg also approved new
legislation on cohesion policy, the last policy area of the multi-annual
financial framework (MFF) on which disagreements persisted right up to the
vote. Other programmes linked to the MFF also won MEPs' backing.

The full
Parliament voted on Tuesday (19 November) in favour of the long-term budget,
with 537 votes to 126, and 19 abstentions. The annual budget was approved on
Wednesday with 494 for, 158 against, and 13 abstentions. The member states gave
their backing to the 2014 budget on Tuesday in the General Affairs Council. The
MFF is scheduled for adoption without discussion at a Competitiveness Council on
2 December.

The MFF
fixes at €960 billion the financial commitments the EU can make during the
years 2014-20, and sets limits for actual payments of €908bn. The budget for
2014 – the first budget year of the new multi-annual cycle – sets commitments
at €142.6bn and payments at €135.5bn, down 6.2% from the 2013 annual budget.
The budget cuts prompted resistance from the Green and leftist groups in the
Parliament.

In July,
following an agreement in principle with the Council of Ministers, the European
Parliament set out conditions for its final approval, and the vote had been
postponed twice because of MEPs' continuing dissatisfaction with member state
compliance.

The
European Parliament cannot unilaterally make changes to the MFF, but it does
have the power to adopt or reject it. The Parliament's conditions included
additional money to cover shortfalls in the current annual budget – approved by
the Council earlier this month – and the creation of a high-level working group
that will study ways to strengthen the EU's own revenue system. The Parliament
has received assurances from Lithuania, the current holder of the rotating
presidency of the Council of Ministers, about the composition and remit of the
working group.

The
Strasbourg plenary votes also covered programmes linked to the MFF, including
the European Social Fund, the Erasmus+ exchange programme, and the Connecting
Europe facility. MEPs struck a last-minute compromise with the Council on
cohesion policy, salvaging a hard-won deal over the conditions under which
regional aid could be suspended.

The
final agreement states that a member state's "significant non-compliance" with
EU fiscal rules would be grounds for suspension of aid – which is likely to
apply more frequently than the "persistent non-compliance" that MEPs had
sought, but still not so widely as the simple "non-compliance" that member
states had wanted.

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