Deal or no deal?
Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore may have gilded the lily more than a bit. His announcement late on Wednesday night that the Irish EU Presidency had secured a deal with MEPs on the thorny EU seven-year budget from 2014 (the MFF) has been followed by a series of disavowals from the European Parliament and a decidely non-commital Commission statement.
To make his point that no deal has been done the rapporteur from the parliament’s budget committee, Reimer Böge, a senior figure in the the largest parliament group, the EPP, has resigned from the talks, while spokesmen of other groups have denounced the package, due to be voted on in parliament in early July.
Nor is it clear that all will be plain sailing when Mr Gilmore reports back to the European Council in a few days – in getting the “deal” he has, as more than one observer put it, “stretched” his mandate from the member states. Leaders may well decide he has overstepped his authority – in the UK the mandate was already regarded as a concession too far.
Understandably anxious to be able to claim credit for the presidency on probably its most difficult diplomatic challenge – though the CAP reform , still not agreed, may run it a close second – Mr Gilmore has jumped the gun, frustrated by an interinstitutional battle that has as much to do with a tussle for power between MEPs and member states as with the detail of spending.
Granted the decisive say on budgets by the Lisbon Treaty, MEPs have been determined to create as much discretion on spending for themselves as possible, in the MFF by demanding the right to reallocate unspent monies (“flexibility”) and a mid-term budgetary review – code for a second crack of the whip for MEPs elected to a new parliament next year to increase spending.
To achieve this MEPs have said they are willing to stomach the current proposed budget ceiling of €960 billion, a first real cut in the budget’s history, and they have been offered partial concessions on both flexibility and the review. But not enough. And the Council of Ministers still has to come up with a further €3.9 billion to cover the 2013 deficit.
For the presidency which has to broker a deal first between fractious member-state governments – the conflicting interests of net contributors and net beneficiaries – and then reconcile such an agreement with parliament’s insatiable ambitions is to square an almost impossible circle. At least in national parliaments the majority of parliamentarians have some degree of commitment to their government which is thus assured a majority for financial measures – not so in the EU’s cumbersome, twin-headed democracy.
It may well be all too much for this presidency – enter Lithuania, stage right.