Liberal members of the European Parliament are to meet Liberal members of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) next week to explain why they drafted a paper calling for the abolition of the body.
A position paper on the European Union’s spending after 2013 was revised after protests from Liberal members of the CoR. The published version called instead for “a fundamental restructuring” of the CoR, but the MEPs pressed ahead with a demand that the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) should be abolished.
The paper was published last week (11 January), having been endorsed by MEPs in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group last month. Carl Haglund, a Liberal MEP from Finland who drafted the paper, said that an earlier version of the position paper stated that the EU should “consider abolishing both” the CoR and the EESC, but that wording was dropped after opposition from the ALDE group at the CoR.
The hasty revision is still evident in the final text which says that on the question of finding some possible savings in the current budget, “three recurring ideas can be identified” – and then goes on to list four. They are: “fundamentally restructuring certain parts of the EU administration, such as the Committee of the Regions”; “maintain the option of abolishing such administrative structures…as the Economic and Social Committee and others”; “avoid duplication and encourage synergies in spending between the national and the EU level”; and “limited and precise cuts in the CAP” – the Common Agricultural Policy.
ALDE officials at the CoR admitted that they had been caught off-guard by the proposal’s initial wording, but had persuaded Liberal MEPs to revise their initial call to shut down the CoR.
Flo Clucas, president of the ALDE group in the CoR and deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats on the city council of Liverpool, said that MEPs lacked information as to the importance of the CoR.
“People did not really understand our role,” she said, adding that the CoR was crucial in ensuring that local and regional governments across the EU had “a voice in Brussels” when it comes to policymaking.
Staffan Nilsson, the president of the EESC, said that it was “sadly surprising” that Liberal MEPs were proposing the abolition of the only non-political EU advisory body. Nilsson pointed out that the Lisbon treaty had not only consolidated the EESC’s role, but had increased its “tasks, budgets and potential”.
The ALDE paper sets out the group’s position as to what line the Parliament should take in negotiations with the member states and the European Commission about the EU’s next multiannual financial framework (MFF) after 2013.
The current MFF is seven years in duration. The ALDE group supports the idea, put forward by the Commission among others, that the MFF should be five years long and be synchronised with the mandates of the Parliament and the Commission. But ALDE voices doubts about how the Commission’s idea of two interlinked five-year MFFs would work. ALDE warns that one Parliament would get to prepare a “five-plus-five” MFF, but the next Parliament would prepare only a mid-term revision of something already agreed.
On the size of the budget, the ALDE paper does not come out with a clear statement as to what ceiling to put on spending. It says that in the political group “there is understanding for the views of the member states in these difficult times”, but adds that in the longer term ALDE sees the need for the EU’s budget to “live up to the obligations of the Lisbon treaty and the goals set in the EU 2020 strategy for growth and jobs”. The EU’s budget is not fit to fulfil these obligations, given its current structure, ALDE says. It calls for “significant re-allocations within the EU budget together with a possible reorganisation of the budget structure”.
In addition to the reallocations involving the CoR, the EESC, the CAP and eliminating duplication between the national and EU levels, the ALDE paper floats other possibilities. They are: concentrating the work of the Parliament in one place; savings on EU administration “including the Parliament”; avoiding duplication between the European Social Fund and the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund; cutting or ending support for programmes whose rationale is now dubious (“support for tobacco production in the EU” is one example it gives).
The ALDE paper says that there should be greater flexibility about moving money from one part of the EU’s budget to another. Under the current MFF, money is allocated under five separate headings and transferring money between headings is only possible with a revision of the MFF, entailing difficult negotiations between the Council of Ministers and the Parliament.
ALDE says that the EU’s budget should be entirely funded by its own revenue stream, whether value-added taxes and customs duties or some new “own resources”, and national contributions should be replaced altogether. It says rebates to member states should be abolished.
ALDE calls for member states to issue “compulsory” public national declarations of assurance on how they spend EU funds.
The group suggests the EU set up a Eurobonds scheme to pay for “large, pan-European investments”, such as bridges, rail links or major roads.
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