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Important points 1994-1999

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The community budget
Responsibility, democratic accountability and meeting public expectations

pf1801.gif (21251 bytes)When dealing with budgetary matters in recent years Parliament has put the emphasis on qualitative rather than quantitative goals. Keen to prevent any waste of taxpayers' money, it has concentrated on improving transparency and democratic accountability through more careful definitions of Community policy priorities, stricter financing conditions and more stringent checks on the way EU funding is used.

In addition, Parliament has shown it is alert to public needs and expectations by ensuring that resources are provided for education, training, health and consumer protection.

It has also proved it can find new, practical ways of coping with major problems such as employment. In November 1997, at Parliament's prompting, the Council held a special summit in Luxembourg on employment. The two institutions then found the money needed for the "employment initiative" (.450m over three years).

A tight budget

A key objective of the European Union has been to make budget savings, just as the Member States have done in preparation for the arrival of the euro. Parliament has played its part by helping rationalise the EU's own expenditure. Since 1996 it has voted for spending levels below the ceilings laid down for the expenditure categories listed in the Financial Perspective (the FP is the multiannual financial forecast for the period 1993-99 for each area of EU spending, i.e. agriculture, structural measures, internal policies, external action, administrative expenditure and reserves). In addition, the method for arriving at estimates for the funding of the common agricultural policy has been improved. Parliament and Council now use estimates updated by the Commission at the start of each farming year (October) to decide on the funding requirements in the light of real needs. As a result, farm spending in 1999 will account for less than half the Community budget.

Stricter checks on spending

In a period of austerity the watchword must be efficiency, so Parliament has demanded stricter checks on spending. Where budget funds have been used wisely in the past, Parliament has used this as a basis for allocating resources in subsequent years. In this way it has been able to provide funding for Community initiatives such as PEACE (Northern Ireland) and industrial conversion programmes (RECHAR, RESIDER, KONVER). Transparency and democratic accountability are essential for ensuring that agreed priorities are observed and budgetary management properly monitored - in other words that the taxpayer's money is used as it should be. Measures are also needed to combat fraud, which is cleverly used by organised crime (itself an increasing problem in the single market) to fleece the Community budget. On this front Parliament has been a prime mover in efforts to tighten up checks on the use of EU funds.

Meeting public expectations

More transparency and democratic accountability will not of themselves make the EU more meaningful or intelligible to the public. Parliament has used the lessons learnt from the debate on the Maastricht Treaty and taken the lead in devising a clear public information policy on the EU's role and policies. Information campaigns have been conducted in the Member States on the introduction of the euro and practical aspects of environmental issues and consumer affairs. Parliament has also ensured sufficient funding is provided for key education, training and youth programmes (Socrates, Leonardo, Youth for Europe and the European Voluntary Service), cultural heritage programmes (Raphael), artistic/cultural projects (European Cities of Culture under the Kaleidoscope programme), programmes to fight cancer, AIDS and drug abuse and others to protect the environment and consumers' rights. Again thanks to Parliament, adequate funds have been made available for promoting equal opportunities, job creation and dialogue between employers' and workers' representatives as well as combatting social exclusion, racism and xenophobia and assisting refugees.

A budget to match the EU's role in the world

Parliament is also keen to ensure that money earmarked for the EU's external policy activities is spent well. Once the need for enlargement had been accepted, Parliament stressed the importance of close financial scrutiny of the Phare and Tacis programmes, which were set up to smooth the path towards a market economy and EU membership for the east European countries. Efficiency was also one of Parliament's prime concerns with regard to the other major external programme, MEDA, which promotes peace and social development in the Mediterranean. In addition, Parliament has worked to overcome the problems besetting EU funds intended to pay for reconstruction in former Yugoslavia and to ease the return of refugees to their homes. There too the aim has been to make EU aid more effective and raise its profile.

Parliament has made sure that sufficient funds will be available for the European initiative for democracy and human rights (around .100m for 1999), thus underlining its commitment to these principles and enabling the EU to support efforts - mainly by NGOs - to boost democracy, the rule of law, civil society, independent media organisations, the protection of minorities and conflict prevention measures. The initiative also finances election-monitoring missions and operations to help organise elections.

Lastly, the EP has made special efforts to provide stable funding arrangements for NGOs operating in the social, development, humanitarian and "civil society" areas, whether in the developing countries or in Europe. In July 1998, under an Interinstitutional Agreement between Parliament, Council and Commission on "legal bases", a global long-term arrangement was concluded. It guarantees that funds entered in the budget will be paid out once a basic legal act (a regulation, directive or decision) has been adopted. In addition, under the agreement the institutions may take initiatives to launch pilot projects or preparatory actions using budget funds, even before a basic act is adopted, provided they use appropriate procedures. This agreement dispelled the uncertainty about the financing of NGOs engendered by a ruling of the EU Court of Justice in May 1998 and Parliament thereby got its way on a long-standing demand while also having its right of initiative consolidated.

Further information: Georgios GHIATIS ( tel.0032-2-284 22 16; email: gghiatis@europarl.eu.int)

 

 

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