Interview with Flo Clucas (ALDE, UK), chair of Committee of the Regions Ad Hoc Commission on EU budget
“Cohesion policy single greatest idea to come out of EU”
By Gaspard Sebag | Monday 02 April 2012
The EU Committee of the Regions (CoR) wants to make sure the overall size of the 2014-2020 multiannual financial framework (MFF) equals at least 1% of EU GNI (gross national income) and that cohesion spending is not sliced into. To get that point of view across, Flo Clucas (ALDE, UK), chair of the CoR Ad Hoc Commission on the EU budget and member of Liverpool City Council, has been building alliances with like-minded stakeholders, such as members of European Parliament, and reasoning with representatives of member states that favour slashing the long-term EU budget.
What type of convergence is there between the CoR and the EP on the 2014-2020 MFF?
We are very supportive of the Parliament’s position and we appear to be very much on similar lines in terms of what we want to see.
How will you get your point across to the Council?
Simple. We are saying to member states governments ‘you need to listen’. Even if you disagree you need to hear why.
Why is it then?
The reason local authorities and city authorities will say to you that Europe can do what member states can’t is precisely because it can guarantee funding over a long period. If you do it properly it means that those areas can plan for the long term.
Second thing it does, which member states can’t: it allows flexibility in the state aid rules. If we are a poorer or a transition region – I hope we will have transition regions after the next [long-term] budget envelope is agreed – they will have a different intervention rate from those regions that are doing better.
I think that if member states seriously want to slash and burn the EU budget they will live to regret it.
Yet, in order to have a modern EU budget it might be necessary to make some economic sacrifices on traditional priorities.
It depends on what you mean by economic sacrifices. I do think we should look at the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy). I’ll give you an example: if you’re a farmer you can sell your entitlement and get a lump sum for it from an investor. I know that for the following two, three or five years that investor will make his money back three, four or five times in terms of entitlement from money from the CAP budget. I think that’s wrong.
I’m also not sure that major agro-industries should be benefiting.
So that is where you would cut back?
I wouldn’t use the phrase cut back because I think it needs to be a serious look rather than just a cut. For example, I might switch a lot of that to rural development rather than agricultural support.
Cohesion policy, I think, is probably the single greatest idea to come out of the European Union. Not because it doesn’t have its faults, since it does. But because when you use it properly it makes a huge difference and when you can make that kind of difference with something like cohesion policy, which member states cannot do, then you should treasure it, you should refine it over time and you should allow it to continue to work. It is the one policy that brings the whole European Union together and it’s successful and it works and I love it.
This Union needs growth and it needs jobs and it needs investment. If what you’re looking at is having a problem over growth in most member states then you need something that will kick-start private sector investment. Let’s not forget insurance companies and major national and international corporations are sitting on billions of euro. We need to be drawing them in to invest. And if you can use Structural Funds to do that, if you can use the state aid rules to help that in those areas where cohesion policy operates, then we should be doing it and that’s the way we’re going to get people off state benefits and therefore not drag on member state budgets, which are not growing but helping those member states by reducing the number of people who are unemployed.
The European Parliament is pushing for an ambitious long-term EU budget and new own resources to be introduced as a source of funding.
My understanding is [MEPs] have drawn a line and they do not want that line to be crossed. They believe that if they say ‘no’ to the budget as it is presented by the Council is then all that happens is that we have 2013 funding rolled forward. So they think they have nothing to lose.
The problem is that many legal bases will have expired by then.
They would need to look at those. They think they can overcome all of that. Council cannot afford to ignore Parliament.
Parliament has the tendency to sometimes talk the talk but not walk the walk…
You could be right on that. That’s happened in the past but I have to say that this time I think the situation is different because what is being said is that this is the first time that Parliament has had the opportunity to do what it can do. The feeling that I think is currently holding sway is the Parliament has made its position clear and therefore cannot retract from that. If they do retract from it then they’re going to spend the next five to ten years being ridden roughshod over by the member state government. That is something they do not want to happen and they realise this.
If [the Parliament is] going to do it, this is when they have to do it otherwise all they’re going to be is a talking shop. And I think there’s more ambition there this time than I’ve seen before, ambition for the people. n