The Chair of the CoR's temporary ad hoc Commission on the EU budget and Mayor of the City of Delft, Mr. Bas Verkerk (NL/ALDE), outlines the CoR's stance on the EU budget. Discussions on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) are anticipated to soon formally recommence at the next European Summit (7-8 February). In this interview, he also points out how the topics under debate significantly affect local and regional authorities.
For the first time in the EU history, a Multiannual Financial Framework is expected to be lower than the previous one. This will happen while citizens expect a stronger role of the Union to support growth and jobs. What is the strategic approach of the Committee of the Region in this critical situation? Did the CoR commitment succeed in preserving the key tools for investment and in suggesting how to improve their efficacy?
The Committee of the Regions, as well as the European Parliament, have been calling for an ambitious multiannual financial framework that would allow the European Union to take strong actions to stimulate growth and jobs. However, we do also have to bear in mind that many Member States are going through a painful process of budget cuts imposed on them by the economic crisis, and we cannot ignore this at European level. Besides the size of the budget we must therefore also focus on the quality of the spending, and synergies of actions taken at European level with actions taken at national, regional, provincial or local level.
According to the CoR, the budget 2014-2020 should not be lower than 1,14% of EU's GNI. What are your expectations on the final outcome on the overall financial allocation?
It is very difficult to make predictions about the outcome of the negotiations. The Committee of the Regions is clear in its call for a budget of at least 1,14% of European GNI. The European Parliament has also reiterated its call for an ambitious budget. The Council cannot ignore these strong calls from democratic representatives at European, local and regional level.
The CoR has supported most of the Commission's proposals such as transition regions, thematic concentration and partnership contracts. What are the most controversial aspects of the proposed cohesion policy reform in the current debate?
The Committee of the Regions regularly stresses that local and regional authorities need to be fully involved as partners in the implementation of cohesion policy. This includes the sufficient flexibility in the spending of money from structural and cohesion funds, as well as full participation in the drafting of partnership contracts. At European level, it must be ensured that new legislation affecting local and regional authorities is adopted through the co-decision procedure involving the European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions. These points remain controversial in the current debate and the Committee of the Regions regrets that its calls have not been fully taken up.
Do you think that, in the end, macroeconomic conditionality will be accepted as a price to pay for having a more decent budget?
The Committee of the Regions can only send a strong warning to the negotiators not to accept any type of macroeconomic conditionality. Macroeconomic conditionality implies that cities and regions will lose access to structural and cohesion funds if their national government does not respect the agreed macroeconomic framework. This would have a direct effect on citizens: many local social services, or regional investments in new transport infrastructure, for example, are co-funded by European money and would have to be reduced. This punishes local authorities, citizens and associations, who do not have any influence on macroeconomic developments.
What is the key message you would like to share with the Member States ahead of their Council meeting?
It is key to realise that the EU budget is an investment budget that all European citizens benefit from. Nearly 95% of the money is spent again in the member States of the Union. The EU already spends 50 times less than the total combined spending of the 27 Member States. Cutting the budget would deprive the entire Union of the economic stimulus needed to re-launch the European economy and to fight unemployment. Yet, European citizens quite rightly expect the European Union to act and to solve these problems, but to do so it requires the necessary funding.
The Committee of the Regions' (CoR) plenary assembly set up a temporary ad hoc Commission on the EU budget, in February 2010. It was decided that the Commission would remain in place until the end of its current five-year term (2010-2015).