"Austerity budget" for 2014 raises many questions in Parliament
Will the EU budget for 2014 be able to deliver growth, as promised? If youth employment is the top priority in 2014, will other programmes suffer? Can the EU still support youth employment after 2016? And what happens if the issue of outstanding bills for 2013 (€11.2 billion) is not resolved in time? These were some of the questions MEPs raised when Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski presented the draft budget on Wednesday.
"The draft budget for 2014 is the first illustration of the reduction of the new multi-annual financial framework as desired by the Council. The so-called 'Growth Pact' is already falling apart in the first year, due to a greatly reduced budget," said Budgets Committee chair Alain Lamassoure (EPP, FR).
"As the Union risks falling into recession, the annual budget will be cut by €8 billion. Research spending as well as regional funds are to be amputated by 13.5% and support for SMEs will be cut by 20%", he added.
"Horizon 2020", the EU umbrella programme for research and development projects, is severely damaged in 2014, said 2014 budget rapporteur Anne E. Jensen (ALDE, DK). "The budget for research at its current level lacks ambition. If Europe is to do better against the global competition, then a strong focus on the budget for research and innovation is crucial."
Ms Jensen also deplored massive cuts to the budget allocations supporting the EU's role as a global player. "How can we explain a 12% drop when we have such a situation in Syria?" she asked.
Most speakers welcomed a proposal to concentrate the bulk of youth employment spending in 2014 and 2015, but worried that such "frontloading" could mean there would be less money available for other purposes. "Which programmes will not need money in this period, where will that money come from?", asked Eidel Gardiazábal Rubial (S&D, ES) and Helga Trüpel (Greens/EFA, DE).
Ivars Godmanis (ALDE, LV) acknowledged that the Commission's proposal stretches to "the maximum that was possible" in relation to the youth employment initiative, he wanted guarantees that the programmes which countries pledge to put into effect would go beyond political declarations.
Richard Ashworth (ECR, UK) considered the draft "pragmatic and sensible, but others rejected it outright. "The draft budget as presented is an austerity budget and as such my group cannot accept it", said Alda Sousa (GUE/NGL, PT).
Replying to questions by Jan Mulder (ALDE, NL), Mr Lewandowski said his calculation of €136.1 billion in payments for 2014 assumes that the Council agrees to an €11.2 billion top-up in 2013, as promised in December 2012 and stipulated as a prerequisite for final agreement on the multi-annual financial framework. This money is needed to pay invoices presented for payment up to the end of October 2013.
In the chair: Alain Lamassoure