BRUSSELS: After months of tough negotiations, the EU executive, the member states and the parliament thrashed out a possible compromise on a trillion-euro budget Wednesday to cover European Union spending over the next seven years.
But the deal announced by Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore, whose country holds the current rotating EU presidency, drew immediate fire from some of the negotiators.
“We agreed with (the head of the parliamentary delegation, French MEP Alain) Lamassoure a package,” Gilmore said after 16 hours of talks. “This package addresses all the four issues identified as important by the European Parliament.”
But Lamassoure told AFP that “some members of the European Parliament delegation are very reserved, and that is why I could not give parliament’s agreement.”
“We agreed with the Irish presidency on the contents of a possible compromise,” he said. “We weren’t able to negotiate further. Each side went beyond its mandate.”
The EU’s budget commissioner Janusz Lewandowski said in a statement that talks to agree a budget for the 2014-20 financial period had ended and that the proposals must now be formally approved by the 27 EU states and the parliament.
He said the compromise met parliament’s demands for flexibility — enabling unused funds to be transferred from one item to another if necessary — and for a 2016 review of spending.
“Also, the Solidarity Fund would be enhanced to make it more responsive to natural disasters such as floods, and the new Youth Employment Initiative would see strong funding in 2014 and 2015 as the situation calls for immediate measures,” he said.
Gilmore will put the compromise for approval to EU European affairs ministers meeting in Luxembourg next Tuesday.
Ireland had been pressing for an accord before the end of its mandate on June 30 rather than having to hand over unfinished business to Lithuania which takes up the EU presidency on July 1.
“We cannot afford to delay any longer in reaching agreement. Our citizens need certainty,” Gilmore said Tuesday evening as he went into the talks.
At a summit in February, a hardline Britain supported by Germany shot down a European Commission request to increase 2014-20 spending by 5.0 percent, saying that was unacceptable at a time of austerity.
Instead, the EU leaders agreed a spending cut of 3.0 percent, sparking uproar in Parliament where MEPs charged they were cutting funds desperately needed to bring growth and create new jobs.
Parliament, whose approval is needed for the budget to come into effect, has repeatedly made clear it will not accept the first ever spending cuts in the European Union budget.
In negotiations since February, parliament and Lewandowski had said they could go along with figures from the February accord but felt their own demands had been ignored.
In return for its agreement, Parliament wanted greater flexibility in the budget, for example allowing funds not used in one area to be transferred to another sector.
MEPs also wanted a mid-term review in the hope that if the economy picks up, the spending constraints might be eased.
In a first response, a member of the Socialist group, Ivailo Kalfin, said however that the compromise did not satisfy.
Caught up in the negotiations are outstanding issues on the EU budget for this year, with MEPs seeking an extra 11.2 billion euros to help cover an expected shortfall.
Member states have so far agreed to pay only another 7.3 billion euros, demanding that Parliament approve the 2014-20 budget before they will go any further.