Negotiations on the EU’s long-term budget will enter their seventh round on Thursday (8 October). The European Parliament, which demands more money for EU programmes and clarity on the rule of law, views the ball in the German Council Presidency’s court.
Marathon negotiations on the EU’s seven-year budget are currently underway in the Parliament. On average twice a week, MEPs sit down with representatives from the Commission and the Council to settle the final points of contention and make the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) ready for a vote.
On Thursday, they will sit down at the negotiating table for the seventh time. The crux of the matter this time will be whether the Council, meaning the 27 EU member states, is ready to provide more money for EU programmes.
These include HORIZON (research) and Erasmus (education) programmes, which the Council cut the most since the Commission presented its budget proposal. Compared to the previous period, most programmes receive more money, but the increases are much smaller than the Commission and particularly the Parliament would like.
The Parliament is currently demanding an additional €40 billion for these programmes; originally, MEP had wanted €100 billion.
Therefore, the ball is now in the Council’s court, specifically, that of the German Council Presidency, Rasmus Andresen, Green MEP in the MFF negotiating team.
“Everything depends on it,” he added. “The Council can no longer claim that we are not making proposals.”
Two negotiations, one goal
The second major sticking point is the linking of EU funds to the rule of law. However, this is being negotiated in a separate trialogue, with the next rounds taking place on Monday and Wednesday (12 and 14 October).
Andresen emphasised, however, that these negotiations are closely linked: The Parliament’s blessing for the MFF will only come “when we have clarity on the rule of law.”
The German Council Presidency’s proposal is insufficient in this respect, among other things because it no longer considers the state of the rule of law in a country as a whole, but only in the legal use of EU funds.
Moreover, in this proposal, the Council made it more difficult to impose sanctions.
The Commission had at one point proposed that sanctions can only be prevented by a qualified majority of states. The current proposal turns the tables: only a qualified majority of states can propose sanctions in the first place.
“This makes the mechanism virtually ineffective. We, Greens, firmly reject this proposal and strongly condemn the fact that the Council is playing into Orban’s hands with the German Presidency,” Andresen wrote in a press release, referring to Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Monika Hohlmeier, an EPP lawmaker in the trialogue on the rule of law, told a press briefing on Wednesday: “Unfortunately, we are seeing that some leaders from different parties would like to wipe the issue off the table to continue some unacceptable practices.”
Germany puts the brakes on emissions trading
However, apart from those two sticking points, there was certainly movement in other, less controversial areas.
Currently, the negotiators are working on an inter-institutional agreement that gives the Parliament a role in the distribution of EU funds. However, it is still unclear what this role will look like in concrete terms – whether it will be consultative or actually decisive.
“Here we have to walk the path between what is legally possible and what is politically desirable,” said Andresen.
There could also be movement on new EU revenue sources, and the agreement should mention all new sources.
The plastic tax is to come into force as early as January 2021, and now the Parliament hopes to consolidate concrete timetables in the agreement for CO2 duties, a digital tax, emissions trading and a financial transaction tax.
The Council does not want to introduce the latter until 2025 at the earliest, which is too late for the Parliament. Andresen said that Germany is currently putting the brakes on emissions trading.