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Debates
Wednesday, 11 May 2005 - Strasbourg OJ edition

19. Parliament's estimates for 2006
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  President. The next item is the report by Valdis Dombrovskis, on behalf of the Committee on Budgets, on the estimates of revenue and expenditure of Parliament for the financial year 2006 (2005/2012(BUD)) (A6-0106/2005).

 
  
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  Valdis Dombrovskis (PPE-DE), rapporteur. (LV) Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the following priorities have been put forward in the estimates of income and expenditure in the European Parliament’s budget for 2006.

First, the successful completion of the 2004 round of EU enlargement, by fully integrating representatives from the new EU Member States into the EU institutions, as well as preparations for the 2007 round of EU enlargement, when Romania and Bulgaria will join. The current situation is worrying: despite more than a year having already passed since EU enlargement, many permanent posts set aside for the new Member States still remain vacant. It is forecast that by the end of 2005 only 78% of the permanent posts allocated to the new Member States will be filled. The European Parliament’s Secretary-General will therefore have to issue a report on the reasons for the delay and make proposals for remedying the situation. One of the problems to be emphasised in this connection is the excessive red-tape and slow procedures for taking on staff.

The second priority is effective and highly targeted use of European Parliament budget resources. This priority encompasses such matters as: focusing EU institutional expenditure on fundamental tasks; supporting requests for new permanent positions from the budget only after having assessed the possibility of redistributing resources and staff within the framework of the existing budget; supporting new initiatives only after having assessed their impact on the budget and interinstitutional cooperation with a view to economical and effective use of budget resources.

Of course, the issue of the sum of over 200 million euro per year which is spent on top of everything else in order to provide the European Parliament with a seat in Strasbourg is still a topical one. The main problem is the maintenance of two European Parliament buildings in parallel, in Brussels and Strasbourg. It must be acknowledged that this matter falls within the jurisdiction of the European Council.

The third priority is improving EU budget terminology, making it more complete and more transparent in order to show taxpayers more clearly how their resources are used. Improvements will be needed to the draft terminology that has been proposed, so that it can better fulfil these criteria.

In speaking about the European Parliament budget, I would like to stress that a total budget expenditure ceiling will be set according to careful evaluation of justified needs. Achieving a ceiling of 20% of total administrative expenditure is not an end in itself. The proposal by the European Parliament’s Secretary-General sets a budget for the European Parliament for 2006 of 1.3416 billion euro. We welcome the Budget Committee’s support for the rapporteurs’ proposal to reduce this amount by 20 million euro. The experience of previous years, when large amounts of unused resources have been reallocated and some money has not even been used at all, demonstrates that we have an opportunity to spend European taxpayers’ money more prudently. The final ceiling on expenditure for the European Parliament’s budget will be set at first reading. I would like to stress as important aspects of Parliament’s work in 2006, first a better explanation to EU citizens of the European Parliament’s work, placing particular emphasis, in this connection, on the role of the European Parliament’s information offices in the EU Member States, and second, preparations by the European Parliament to play a larger role in the legislative sphere, as provided in the EU Constitutional Treaty.

Finally, I should like to emphasise that 2006 is the last year of the existing financial perspective. In this regard, the question of the amount of payment appropriations from the joint EU 2006 budget is particularly topical. It is important that the total amount of 2006 budget commitment and payment appropriations should correspond to those commitments which the EU has entered into, including those connected with EU enlargement.

I would like to call on the EU Council to reconsider the attitude it adopted in connection with the EU budget for 2006, where it artificially blocked the amount of payment appropriations. If we want to see the EU as a reliable partner, it is important that the EU should fulfil its commitments, including the commitments which it entered into in connection with the enlargement of the EU. It is important that in this financial perspective the commitments that have been provided for should be correspondingly reflected in the budget for 2006.

 
  
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  Markus Ferber, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, Mr Secretary-General, ladies and gentlemen, let me start by extending the warmest of thanks to our rapporteur, Mr Dombrovskis, for having taken on – and continuing to perform – the thankless task of dealing with the House’s budget, for which he can expect more than just praise and rejoicing on the part of his fellow MEPs, and to which he is devoting himself with a great deal of passion. So, first of all, a very warm ‘thank you’ for doing that, from the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats.

There is just one issue I want to raise, and it is one that matters a great deal to me. How much money does the European Parliament need? The figure of ‘20% of administration costs’ is being both whispered in the corridors of the House and held up as incontrovertible truth. In this year alone, in 2005, Mr Secretary-General, some EUR 50 million will be surplus to requirements, quite simply because we have to keep to this magic figure of 20%, but without having anything to spend it on.

In 2006, we will be having more of the same thing. Even now, in your preliminary draft budget, as adopted by the Bureau, there is reference to EUR 90 million in unused funds. I really do wonder what it is doing there. Do we really have to take money out of the European public’s pockets and allow it to be added to an over-expanded budget, knowing perfectly well that cannot even spend it? As I see it, that really does raise the question of whether this is the right way to go about things in the long term.

What I recommend is that, as there is money that we do not need, that – as we can already see – we will not need next year, we should not even include it in the budget!

I would have been very glad if Mr Onesta, who has drafted amendments on this topic, were present here today to take responsibility for the proposals he has made. One reason, though, why these funds are not going to be used – and not spent on other things either – is that we are well aware that we will need these amounts of money if we get a Statute. I really would ask that we draft an austerity budget for this House!

 
  
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  Louis Grech, on behalf of the PSE Group. Mr President, allow me first of all to express my thanks to the rapporteur for his report. Broadly speaking, we are in agreement with the main thrust of his arguments. Naturally, we agree with his view that more needs to be done to improve the rationalisation, accountability and disciplinary rigour of the budget.

An area which seems to be problematic is that of staff recruitment. I suppose it would be correct to assume that staff requests were based on justified and realistic needs. Consequently, it is very difficult to understand or justify the delays in the selection and recruitment process relating to enlargement. Action has to be taken to rectify the situation and to address this pressing issue. Having said that, however, I do not agree that an interim, makeshift solution of employing temporary staff should be considered a viable option or alternative. Whilst I can appreciate the reasoning behind this argument, I fear that this type of compromise, if accepted, could lead to a malpractice which may feature occasionally in our future budgets.

The rapporteur has, moreover, put forward for our consideration a reduction in the margin of the contingency reserve. In principle, we agree that appropriations should relate to specific activities and we should avoid cancellation of appropriations at the end of the financial year.

Nevertheless, we have to take into consideration the challenges we face in the near future and the uncertainties which are still evident, relating among others to multilingual services, property investment, the Statute for Members, as well as the adoption of the Statute for Members’ Assistants, which has our full backing and support.

In view of this, it would be prudent to agree with the amendment proposing that the final decision on this item should be taken at a later stage. In fact, I think that the rapporteur did well to postpone the final decision on the gentleman’s agreement relating to the 20% level of heading 5. I agree that this benchmark is not tied to an irrefutable and absolute fixed law and we should not be hesitant to challenge and review this agreement if we are convinced that it is necessary. However, I do not think that this is the case and it would be inadvisable to do away with these guidelines now.

Ironically enough, if used effectively, the stability of the 20% guideline could provide some sound budgetary rigour and efficiency. Naturally, we support the arguments that to achieve budgetary efficiency we have to take a critical look at all forms of expenditure, make more efficient use of resources and avoid waste and duplication of functions.

We should continue to focus on our core services and activities, which leads me to another important point. We have not as yet, albeit it with some justification, experienced the full impact of the ‘raising the game’ exercise. It seems to me that to date only a few objectives have been achieved. Given that the necessary structures are in place, we would realistically expect that in the coming budgetary year most of the targets would be met and a reform implemented to eliminate overt and covert bottlenecks.

On another level, we very much welcome the proposed improvement in the visitors’ service. From my very short and limited experience in the European Parliament, I think that the programmes are a practical and direct tool for improving the perception of the EU. In addition, they have a multiplier effect, which should not be underestimated.

I also warmly welcome the proposal to improve the strategy on communication and information. Over the years, we have not dealt with this issue adequately. Whether real or perceived, we know that there is a barrier between the EU and its citizens. More could and should be done on this important aspect. If we really want our citizens to feel that the European Parliament is their parliament, and that it represents their aspirations, then an effective information and communication strategy has to be implemented swiftly. That should be one of our main priorities. If we fail in this, we will have failed in a very real and fundamental key objective.

Lastly, I congratulate Mr Dombrovskis again, not just for his report but because he as a new Member, coming from a new country, has provided us with an example that shows that this integration process can be productive and efficient.

 
  
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  Kyösti Tapio Virrankoski, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (FI) Mr President, first of all I want to thank and congratulate the rapporteur, Mr Dombrovskis, on an excellent report. The Parliament’s budget is a complex administrative budget demanding a good deal of familiarity with Parliament’s working methods and procedures. The rapporteur has succeeded well in this, and this is reflected, for example, in the small number of amendments. I wish him every success in the future too.

The Parliament’s budget is still characterised by the shortcomings caused by enlargement. Although the new Member States have been with us for over a year now, a considerable number of the posts created for them are still unfilled. Parliament’s administrative departments even estimate that perhaps just under 80% will be filled by the end of the year. The situation appears to be especially problematic in the linguistic sector. As it is the case that for the European Parliament to function democratically there is a need for multilingualism and good language services, due attention should be paid to the smooth running and effective functioning of the linguistic service.

The rapporteur quite rightly focuses attention on budget presentation. It requires continual development. As with the Commission’s budget, the Parliament’s budget needs to be developed in an activity-based direction which clarifies and validates personal accountability. The degree of efficiency achieved should be clearly deducible from the presentation. In future, we also need to establish various indicators to provide a basis for analysing the action taken.

It is particularly important to focus attention on how efficiently Parliament itself works. The ‘raising the game’ reform is especially important for all Members of Parliament. They have to take decisions on issues which are more complicated than ever. For that reason, it will be necessary to give additional support to legislative work.

The Parliament’s budget has traditionally been kept at a level corresponding to 20% of administrative expenditure. As it has been possible to maintain rigour in parliamentary expenditure, particularly as a result of good building policy, there would seem to be a good deal of room for manoeuvre at present: anything up to EUR 90 million. Because there is a surplus from last year, it is impossible at this stage to predict what the actual needs will be. Accordingly, the final decision on the contingency reserve must be left until the autumn. It will be unnecessary to increase the Parliament’s budget unless there are genuine reasons for doing so. A 20% limit is not a target we should be aiming at, but a self-imposed ceiling. The report before us will provide a good basis for follow-up work.

 
  
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  Sergej Kozlík (NI). (SK) Chairman, Madam Commissioner, distinguished House. The most recent opinion poll surveying the attitudes of Slovakia’s citizens to the European Union has given a clear answer. A year into the EU accession, 83% of Slovakia’s general public have a positive opinion of that step, and today the Slovak Parliament ratified the draft Constitution for Europe. On the other hand, the citizens of Slovakia are becoming extremely sensitive to the problems associated with constraints on the exercise of the MEP mandate, especially of the Members representing the new States. These constraints are due to the time-consuming administrative processes within the European Parliament in providing linguistic support, adequate translation capacities and availability of interpretation services in the parliamentary committees and political groups.

The draft resolution to the European Parliament budget tabled by Mr Dombrovskis – and I am taking this opportunity to thank him for his fine job – aptly responds to this situation. It is only regrettable that the original wording of the draft resolution, which described delays in recruiting new staff as unacceptable, has been replaced in the current version by a softer attribute, ‘deplorable’. Inadequate linguistic support undermines the principle of equal opportunities and limits the exercise of the MEP mandate, especially of MEPs from the new Member States. This essentially implies discrimination, which is contrary to the spirit of a united Europe, a Europe that we were joining as new members, and is genuinely unacceptable.

It would be undoubtedly deplorable and inappropriate if approval rates vis-à-vis a united Europe were to decline in the new Member States as a result of shortcomings in the administration of the European Parliament rather than due to budgetary restraints.

 
  
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  Laima Liucija Andrikienė (PPE-DE). Mr President, I would like to concentrate on three issues: the global level of Parliament’s budget, personnel policy, and information policy.

Concerning the global level of Parliament’s budget, the Secretary-General’s proposal set the level of Parliament’s budget at 20% of heading 5, which is EUR 1 340 million. I strongly support the rapporteur’s proposal to reduce the appropriations of the contingency reserve by EUR 30 million and enter in the buildings reserve an amount of EUR 10 million. The report also underlines that the level of Parliament’s budget should be determined on the basis of justified needs and reminds us that conciliation appropriations should be avoided.

The European Parliament’s personnel policy should be improved. Improvements should be brought in to speed up recruitment procedures to fill the 750 unoccupied posts within the European Parliament’s administration and to create a truly merit-based promotion system.

The report also underlines its concern about the accelerated shift of auxiliary to contract staff and requests detailed information on this issue. I suggest that we, the European Parliament, should call on the Secretary-General to examine ways to mitigate the effects of the abolition of the status of existing auxiliary agents of the political groups who are awaiting the completion of recruitment procedures. We should call on the Secretary-General to present the Bureau with a proposal to modify the internal rules on recruitment adopted by the Bureau on 3 May 2004, to enable political groups to benefit from the same recruitment provisions that apply to Parliament’s administration.

Last but not least is information policy. The rapporteur supports improving the visitors’ service and strengthening the role of external offices. It is underlined that in order to reach the citizens, Member States’ communication policy should take account of national differences.

Finally, I would like to thank Mr Dombrovskis for an excellent report.

 
  
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  Hans-Peter Martin (NI). (DE) Mr President, this report is a twofold scandal, in that it is a bitter reflection on the majority opinion in this House, and lays bare the tricks with which this House works. This report was originally couched in very general terms, but, by way of oral amendments, decisions have been incorporated in it to the effect that, of Parliament’s expected surplus – totalling EUR 90 million for 2006 – EUR 60 million should simply be kept in reserve – where, as we know, all sorts of things can happen to it in the course of the Budget – and a further EUR 10 million be put aside for buildings, even though various people, including the Secretary-General, who is here today, have always said that we do not actually need it for that.

Instead of simply handing this money back to the European taxpayer, rather than doing something for the reputation of this House and demonstrating that, yes, we have got the message and can manage with less, it has been fraudulently added to the budget by means of amendments, and it is worthy of note that those amendments were oral. Why do I describe them as having been added fraudulently? I do so because I, as a full member of the Committee in question and entitled to vote, objected to them, and my objections were simply passed over; there have to date been no replies to the objections I have raised to the Bureau and to the President of this House. According to an undated letter, all that was not meant that way. That is a matter of dispute.

I will use all legal means at my disposal. Neither this resolution nor this report have come about in a lawful manner, nor may the vote proceed tomorrow. For the sake of the European taxpayer, I call upon the few who are present here to vote against this report, and, in particular, against these specific parts of it. There will be signed motions to this effect.

 
  
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  President. Could you please confirm whether you have received the letter from the President of Parliament in reply to the complaints you raised? If not, I will send an usher around with a copy of it.

 
  
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  Hans-Peter Martin (NI). (DE) Mr President, at lunchtime today I received, by fax, an undated letter in English, which I presume is what you are referring to. Let me add that other Members have, within the space of three days, received replies of immense length, but, despite repeated warnings, this matter has been dragged out. I would also add that I have already replied to this letter, firmly in the negative. The way this matter is being handled is one I regard as irregular and unlawful.

 
  
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  Hynek Fajmon (PPE-DE).(CS) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, Parliament’s budget for 2006 ought to reflect a number of the key priorities set out in the Dombrovskis report.

As an MEP from a new Member State, I should like to alert the House to several practical problems, which are directly related to the fact that certain aspects of the way in which Parliament works have still not been changed following last year’s enlargement. My primary concern is that the official languages are still not accorded equal status, even though a year has passed since enlargement, and that interpretation is not available at many committee and delegation meetings into the languages of all those present. There are also major delays in distributing documents in Members’ official languages.

These problems are a direct result of the slow progress made in employing officials from the new Member States within Parliament’s administration, and it is not only interpretation and translations that have been affected. The number of people from the new Member States working for Parliament continues to be very low, and we are still a long way from filling all the posts for which funding was earmarked in the budget.

There is absolutely no justification for these delays, which really are quite substantial. According to the Dombrovskis report, it is likely that only 78% of the jobs that have already been created will be filled by the end of this year. In my opinion, urgent steps must be taken to rectify this state of affairs, and to ensure that citizens from the new Member States are represented equally within Parliament’s administration.

I also find it intolerable that European Parliament signs in Parliament’s buildings are still not displayed in all of the EU’s languages. My attention was drawn to this by the first group of visitors that came from the Czech Republic back in November 2004, and in spite of the reminders I have sent to the quaestor, nothing has yet been done about it.

The services offered to visitors to Parliament do however operate relatively smoothly. I have already invited two groups of citizens to Strasbourg, and their reactions lead me to believe that such visits are extremely important. Nevertheless, we could still improve the way we communicate with the public. I regret to say that no publicity materials are available in Czech or in the other languages of the new Member States, and no copies of the European Constitution are available for visitors from the new Member States. I believe that something must be done about this in the near future.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Krzysztof Kuźmiuk (PPE-DE).   (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I have risen to speak on Parliament’s budgetary estimates for 2006 and the Dombrovskis report on these estimates. The EU draft general budget for 2006 was presented a short while ago to the House, and so I should like to start with three comments on this draft.

Firstly, as a representative of Poland, which is a new Member State, I am alarmed at the extremely low level of payments provided for in this budget, namely 1.02% of EU GNI. It should be noted in this connection that under the current Financial Perspective, the ceiling on payments for 2006 is 1.08% of GNI, or in other words EUR 7 billion more in absolute terms.

The second point I wish to make is that it is the European Commission that has proposed this level of payments, even though it was only recently that this very same institution advocated average annual payments of 1.14% of GNI in the 2007-2013 Financial Perspective. In my opinion, it will not be an easy task to explain to EU citizens how it will be possible to fund all of the EU’s expenditure from a total of EUR 112 billion, with payments expected to reach around EUR 130 billion in 2007.

Thirdly, I find it puzzling that this budget provides for a significant increase, or more precisely a 6.2% increase, in expenditure on administration, whilst expenditure on external action has dropped by 2%, and expenditure on the pre-accession strategy has decreased by as much as 4% in relation to 2005.

Following on from my previous point, I should like to move on to the issue of Parliament’s budgetary expenditure in 2006. This is expected to amount to 20% of total expenditure on administration, or in other words to EUR 1 342 million. This represents an increase of 5.5% in relation to 2005. It should be stressed that the main reason for this increase in funding is to ensure that funds are available to complete the EU’s enlargement to include 10 new Member States, and to enable preparations to be made and the necessary funds to be earmarked for Bulgaria and Romania’s accession in January 2007. I would take this opportunity to note that only 78% of enlargement-related jobs for which provision was made in the 2004 and 2005 budgets will be filled by the end of 2005, which is extremely alarming.

In conclusion, I should like to congratulate Mr Dombrovskis on having drafted a comprehensive report on Parliament’s expenditure in 2006. It covers not only issues relating to enlargement, but also those relating to the quality and efficiency of Parliament’s work, in particular the work done by Members on documents drafted in their own languages. It also details the problems we face in bringing Parliament and the fruits of its labour closer to the citizens.

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE-DE). (DE) Mr President, I want especially to thank Mr Dombrovskis and the others who have had a hand in this report. No other parliament in the world – or so I believe – saves the taxpayer a two-figure million sum in one year. Such economy with money is indeed praiseworthy. We are, as we know, pressing for the adoption of the Statute, which will, while relieving the national budgets of a massive burden, mean additional expenditure for Parliament. If we add up the average cost of an official, then this precautionary measure – along with what the Statute is going to give us – is particularly worthy of attention and praise.

We will, in future, have the task of explaining this Europe of ours far better than it has been. We have to make the people more aware of what the European Parliament does. One of the main criticisms levelled during the election was that people hear too little about this House’s political activities. I wish to call on those who exercise responsibility in it to put far greater effort into information policy than they have been wont to do so far.

 
  
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  Janusz Lewandowski (PPE-DE), Chairman of the Committee on Budgets. Mr President, I am responding to Mr Martin’s reservations relating to the legal aspects, not to the substance.

The set of oral amendments he mentioned was submitted the day before voting in the Committee on Budgets to its members and there were no reservations regarding these amendments. After voting for several of them, Mr Martin started to raise reservations, but without clarifying on which Rules he was basing his reservations. Therefore, I went ahead with the vote, having the unanimous support of the Committee on Budgets. That is my clarification.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Hans-Peter Martin (NI). (DE) Mr President, I wish to make a statement in accordance with Rule 145. What Mr Lewandowski has said is quite inaccurate. The practice in this House, both in the plenary and in the committees, is that if an objection is made to an oral amendment proportionate to the quorum – which means one person objecting in a committee, or 37 Members standing up in the House – the amendment cannot proceed to the vote. I would point out to the Chairman of the Committee on Budgets that this practice, and this rule, is not dependent on the point in time at which such an oral amendment is moved. We all know that the written amendment generally goes into rather more detail.

The very same thing that I have described we last saw this Monday in the Committee on Budgetary Control, the chairman of which – himself also from a new Member State – kept on asking whether there were any objections to an oral amendment, and it was plain for all to see that there would have been no vote if any objection had been made.

What is going on here is an attempt at evading responsibility, at avoiding the admission that something has been done in a way that ought not to be possible. I insist that, in terms of substance – I have been given this speaking time, I am entitled to it under the Rules of Procedure – I did indeed refer to Rule 150, which precisely ...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  President. The Commissioner for the next debate has not arrived. Otherwise, I would not have allowed this exchange.

The President has written to Mr Martin. The letter states that the objections that Mr Martin raised were not concerned with linguistic problems, but concerned the substance of each amendment. Given that, the President believes that the decision made by the chairman of the committee to proceed with the vote was in line with the Rules of Procedure and past practice.

Since Mr Martin has indicated that he intends to raise this again tomorrow, I suggest that he follows that procedure. I do not want to pursue this now.

I should like to add, Mr Martin, that I hope I did not hear you accuse the chairman of the committee of misrepresenting what happened. You must be very careful about what you say. The interpretation I heard suggested that you were suggesting that he was lying. You must not say that.

The Secretary-General has listened with great attention to the interventions of all colleagues. I am very grateful to you.

That concludes the debate.

The vote will be tomorrow at noon.

 
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