Better focus, not more spending, is answer to budget stalemate

Three weeks of intense negotiation over the European Union’s 2015 budget ended in stalemate on Monday.

No agreement was reached in the three-way negotiations between the EU Parliament, Council and Commission before a midnight deadline passed. The Commission must now come forward with a completely new budget proposal.

Conservative budget spokesman Richard Ashworth MEP said: “It should recalibrate and re-focus the budget.

“What is clear is that the overall budget is not going to get any bigger. That would be entirely wrong given the budgetary restraint being shown by individual countries, including the Conservative-led government in the UK.

“The Parliament cannot and will not agree a budget for 2015 until all issues to do with the 2014 budget have been resolved – including what is to be done about €23 billion-worth of unpaid bills from member states.

“In addition, the current proposals themselves are ill-focused and unsustainable. When a budget has €146 billion in spending commitments but makes less than €142 billion available, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that doesn’t add up.

Mr Ashworth, Conservative MEP for South East England, pointed out that the new Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had made it clear he wanted greater investment in growth and jobs. The failed budget had been drawn up by former Budget Commissioner Janus Lewandowski, but this was an opportunity for his successor Kristalina Giorgieva to put forward her own strategic changes to reflect these priorities.

“We need sensible proposals to cut spending where it is ineffective and allow better investment in areas that will be a catalyst for employment and productivity. If the Commission cannot deliver that by January the Parliament should simply take two per cent of every budget heading – right across the board. That is how urgent matters are.”


Auditors’ verdict once more shows need for reform

For the 20th year in a row the EU’s auditors could today give the bloc’s accounts only a qualified statement of assurance.

The Court of Auditors’ report on the EU’s accounts for 2013, published this morning, shows the estimated error rate, measuring the level of irregularity in the accounts for 2013 payments, at 4.7%. That is almost identical to 2012’s figure of 4.8%.

It notes that the vast majority of EU expenditure – 80 per cent – is conducted by member states. Both the auditors and the new Budget Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva today called for a culture change to tackle the root problem. They stressed the urgent need for member states to take political ownership of the EU funding they spend. They also called for the Commission to exercise greater performance management.

Conservative budget spokesman Richard Ashworth MEP said: “We regret that no progress has been made on this deep-rooted problem. We welcome the determination of the new commissioner and the comments of the Court of Auditors calling for culture change and greater political responsibility from national governments.

“But we would go further. Conservatives say it is high time the European Parliament took a more active role in the scrutiny of expenditure of taxpayers’ money and MEPs held Commissioners more directly to account for how money is spent on their watch.”