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Budget, social issues centre stage October Strasbourg plenary

Parliament votes growth-stimulating budget for 2012

 
Parliament voted its position on next year's budget on Wednesday   Parliament voted its position on next year's budget on Wednesday

Parliament aimed for a 2012 budget for growth, employment and innovation in the Union and for supporting development and democracy in neighbouring countries, when it voted its position on next year's budget on Wednesday.


In general, MEPs sought to restore the draft budget proposed by the Commission, which the Council cut in July. Parliament's position implies an increase in payments of 5.2% as compared to this year's budget, resulting in a budget of €133.1 billion. The budget resolution was adopted with 431 votes in favour, 120 against and 124 abstentions.


A 21-day conciliation period starts in November, with meetings foreseen on 8 and 18 November. Furthermore, there are budget trilogues foreseen on 3, 10 and 14 November. If Parliament and Council can agree, the final budget could be approved at the December session in Brussels.


Investments in R&D, cohesion and structural funds on track


The spending categories that see the biggest increases in payments are Research and Development (10.35%) and Cohesion and Structural funds (8.8%). This is because these policies in fact consist of long-term investment projects which now, in the fifth year of the current multiannual financial framework (MFF), are up to full speed and for which money committed earlier now needs to be paid out. 


Another category that sees a significant increase is Freedom, Security and Justice (6.84%), due to growing needs to manage refugee and migration flows and step up maritime surveillance in the Mediterranean.


By contrast, in category 1A, "Competitiveness for growth and employment" and category 4, "the EU as a global player", Parliament wants to spend only slightly more than the Commission originally proposed.


Several MEPs criticised the Council for inconsistencies in its position on the Commission's Draft Budget. The budgets for the new European financial supervision bodies and Frontex are deemed insufficient for them to function properly, whereas their work is considered a top priority.


Research, innovation and education (heading 1A)


Francesca Balzani (S&D, IT), who is steering the budget through Parliament, stressed that investments are needed to secure future growth and employment. Parliament followed her proposals to increase spending on programmes related to the EU2020 strategy


Parliament does not agree to funding the EU's nuclear fusion programme ITER with money allocated for R&D under the 7th Research and Development Framework Programme, as the Commission and Council propose. As the idea for this mega-project was mooted during the current MFF period, MEPs feel it should be financed with fresh money, and not by funding taken from other research projects.


Cohesion policy (heading 1B)


On the policy for greater cohesion between the EU's regions, MEPs restored the Commission's draft budget proposal, which Member States had sought to cut.


Agriculture and environment (heading 2)


Parliament agreed to add €250 million to emergency funds for fruit and vegetable producers. This money is meant to prevent future crises like the EHEC-bacteria outbreak earlier this year and to compensate farmers for the financial consequences of further crises.


MEPs strongly defended the EU's "food-for-the-needy" scheme, which provides food to food banks, for which Council is blocking a new legal basis.


Freedom, security, justice and citizenship (headings 3a and 3b)


Parliament disagreed with cuts proposed by the Council on the EU Refugee Fund, Return Fund and External Border Fund (€45 million). The budget for the EU border agency Frontex should be increased by a reserve of €25 million, they said, because this money might be needed for maritime border controls in the Mediterranean and for stepping up surveillance at the Greek-Turkish border. Just last month extra money was added to the 2011 budget for these purposes and MEPs feel that matters may not improve by the end of the year.


Foreign affairs (heading 4)


MEPs approved an increase of €100 million in aid to Palestine, the Middle East Peace process and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). They also approved €27 million for the development co-operation instrument for Asia and Latin America, and added €3 million for election observation missions and €3 million for the Turkish-Cypriot Community. To fund this, MEPs cut other lines, such as the EU Police Mission in Afghanistan and the line for emergency measures under the common foreign and security policy (CFSP).


Administration (heading 5)


The rapporteur for the EP budget and those of the other institutions, Mr José Manuel Fernandes (EPP, PT) proposed further cuts to Parliament's budget. Parliament opted for a below-inflation increase of 1.44%, while doing significantly more with the money. The proposal now includes the accommodation of 18 extra MEPs as a result of the Lisbon Treaty. If these costs were excluded, the increase would amount to only 0.8%. To bring expenses down, MEPs intend to save money on translation and interpretation, by making organisational changes, and voted for a 5% cut in travel expenses, for example by reducing the number of business flights. All allowances will be frozen at 2011 levels.