Commission and Council presidents address MEPs before crucial vote on landmark package.
The EU budget agreed by national leaders will be a “difficult pill to swallow” and they made “regrettable and painful decisions” by cutting funding for important programs, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs Thursday.
Speaking to EU lawmakers in Brussels at an extraordinary plenary session, von der Leyen praised the “political courage” of the heads of state and government who agreed on a groundbreaking €1.82 trillion budget-and-recovery package. “We all know that Europe is not out of the woods yet, but Europe can see now dawn turning into light,” von der Leyen said.
But she also echoed concerns felt by many MEPs that the leaders’ decision to make cuts to programs was hard to accept. Later on Thursday, MEPs will vote on a resolution that threatens to put the brakes on the budget agreement in order to make changes to the deal.
“Yes, we have managed to avoid even further cuts as some member states wanted,” von der Leyen said. “But this MFF [Multiannual Financial Framework, the long-term budget] is a difficult pill to swallow, and I know this house feels the same way.”
“There are regrettable and painful decisions on many programs, which have crucial European added value,” she said, citing EU research program Horizon 2020, “our essential health programs,” and the InvestEU program. “Yes, all these have been increased but certainly not as much as we would have liked,” she said.
European Council President Charles Michel was softer in his remarks to the Parliament. He said he was “well aware” that some MEPs would “emphasize reductions” to programs, “but look at the starting point,” he said.
Von der Leyen’s comments highlighted frustrations among MEPs concerning the deal, but also the lack of clarity on how the EU would repay the money, how the cash would be disbursed and the vagueness of the wording when it comes to the thorny issue of linking the budget to the rule of law.
Some even saw von der Leyen’s comments as encouragement to fight more for an improved budget.
“Did VDL just invite the Parliament to reject the MFF or is that just my interpretation?” one MEP asked POLITICO.
MEPs will not have an opportunity to vote on the EU’s recovery plan. But the MFF — to which the recovery package is linked — needs the consent of an absolute majority in Parliament. If MEPs were to veto the MFF, they would also torpedo the recovery deal.
“Solidarity is coming home” and “nowhere else in the world 27 countries, states are giving such a strong and united answer to the COVID crisis like we do in Europe,” said Manfred Weber, head of the conservative European People’s Party (EPP), of which von der Leyen is a member.
“But I am not happy about the deal,” Weber said. “Ursula, we are for the moment not ready yet to swallow the bitter pill you referred to … We think that this is not giving proper answers to the challenges of the next seven years, it has to be more future-oriented.”
Weber referred to cuts in the MFF that go against the promises of the EPP group, such as a “strong and effective” border guard, a plan to fight cancer, and “dramatic” cuts to the health budget — “in corona times! Unbelievable.”
He also expressed concerns about how the money would be spent: “Until today nobody knows exactly what this money will be spent on,” Weber said. “Is there really a European spirit behind how we spend the money?”
Iratxe García, leader of the Socialists and Democrats group, echoed Weber’s concerns, saying her group “will not accept cuts to future-oriented programs.”
MEPs also requested more clarity on the timetable of the Council’s agreement to tie the distribution of EU resources to compliance with the rule of law. Philippe Lamberts, co-leader of the Greens, said that the rule of law mechanism in the deal “remains vague and nothing guarantees it will be efficient.”
Source: POLITICO https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-budget-deal-a-difficult-pill-to-swallow-ursula-von-der-leyen-tells-angry-meps-mff-recovery-fund-package-vote/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication