The EU budget frenzy of (at least) one year has officially begun. Today, the European Commission, led by Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger, revealed the first proposal for the upcoming multi-annual financial framework (MFF).
This budget will be being in place from 2021 to 2027, when the current budget of 2014-2020 – the last one featuring the UK — will run out. These seven-year plans — which have a rather Soviet ring to them — have a tremendous impact on the European Union in the medium term, and therefore also, on the reform plans of the likes of Emmanuel Macron, Guy Verhofstadt and other federalists.
Today’s proposal demonstrates two things: that the Commission, and Brussels more generally, have not learned anything from Brexit; and that, as I described two weeks ago, the federalist dream of a much bigger EU is unlikely to come true. Meanwhile, the Commission’s proposal has been met with criticism, with several voices telling them that this budget proposal is unacceptable (and remember, the budget needs to be approved by all member states).
First, however, let’s look at the good in today’s proposal: Oettinger has taken some of the steps that are necessary if the EU is to face up to its financial situation. Brexit has thrown the EU into a disastrous situation, leaving a hole as big as 94 billion euros for the new MFF period. To close this large gap, the EU has two options: either cut spending, or expect bigger contributions from member states, while mixing in some new “own resources”, i.e. taxes or duties that directly go to the EU.
While the best-case scenario would certainly have been to simply cut spending, the Commission has proposed a reasonable compromise – at least at first sight. Yes, contributions, especially from the net payers in the Union, will be higher. However, cuts are also part of the package.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) — the infamous farm subsidies that accounted for 40 per cent of the current budget and which constitute one of the most, if not the most, disastrous policy in the EU — will be cut by 5 per cent. There will be a reduction of 7 per cent in the Cohesion Fund, which amounts to a third of the current budget and which is little more than simple subsidies from richer to poorer member states.