MEPs worried by payment shortfall, okay 2013 guidelines
By Gaspard Sebag in Strasbourg | Wednesday 14 March 2012
MEPs are bringing to the fore the issue of a foreseen shortage of payments in the current EU budget. On 14 March, the European Parliament’s plenary also backed guidelines drafted by Giovanni La Via (EPP, Italy) for the 2013 EU budget, which call for the adoption of a responsible and result-oriented budget and place small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) at the heart of a bid for growth and jobs. The same day, Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski announced that the draft budget for 2013 would be released on 25 April.
The payment shortfall for 2012 announced by Lewandowski - €11 billion is said to be outstanding, with an estimated “abnormal” cash-flow dilemma to the tune of around €5-6 billion - has parliamentarians “extremely worried”. The Polish commissioner says he has given priority to the requests for repayment coming from member states most in need: over €2 billion from Spain, the same from Italy and over €1 billion from Greece. The others will have to wait. An amending budget to deal with the matter is due around the summer with Parliament and Council expected to clash.
The EP has drawn its sword, first raising the spectre of default. Due to austerity, member states have been forcing down the level of payments, explained Committee on Budgets (BUDG) Chair Alain Lamassoure (EPP, France). “On the other hand, for Community programmes, in these last years of the current financial framework, the level of payment appropriations is so low that the Union is nearly in default,” said the former French budget minister, adding that companies and scientists in particular would be the ones penalised if no solution is found. That is why he invited the Danish Presidency and the Commission to a discussion about the precise needs and the state of payment appropriations and to make sure they are talking on the basis of the same figures.
As last year, parliamentarians insist on aligning the annual budget with the ‘Europe 2020’ strategy for growth and jobs, with particular emphasis this year on SME support. To take into account the difficult economic climate and the austerity policies being pushed across member states, La Via’s report recycles a savings-oriented proposal from last year: he suggests that MEPs identify “possible negative priorities”. Parliament wants its budgetary counterpart to shoulder some of the responsibility for any slashing of EU funding. In case the Council requests “artificial cuts,” Parliament asks the former institution to “clearly and publicly identify and justify which of the EU’s political priorities or projects it believes could be delayed or dropped altogether”. In the last two years, the Council has set the overall level of payments, which the Parliament was forced to rubber-stamp. “If I do this a third time in a row I am no longer credible,” said Lamassoure, conceding, however, that payments would be limited.
“The level of payment appropriations is so low that the Union is nearly in default,” said Lamassoure