EU Commission seeks 6.8% annual budget rise


THE EU Commission is seeking a 6.8 per cent rise in its annual budget to €138 billion, stoking conflict with big member states and raising claims of hypocrisy at a time when it is promoting austerity throughout the union.

The request for the increase has already met resistance from Germany, Britain and France, who have been appealing for restraint from the EU’s executive branch.

Publication of the commission’s proposal is the first act in the noisy negotiation of an annual spending plan, which must be approved by both member states and the European Parliament.

There was no comment on the demand from the Government, which remains a net beneficiary of the European budget.

Separate talks are continuing on a new financial package for the EU for the seven years from 2014, a period in which Ireland may make its first net contribution to the European budget.

Commission president José Manuel Barroso justified the request for an increase by saying it was fully in keeping with legal commitments already made by member states and was essential to promote economic growth.

“It’s not to me, it is to Europe, to the regions of Europe, to the workers of Europe,” he said of the expenditure increase.

“The point is very important to make because sometimes there is complete contradiction between the positions that the governments take publicly,” he told reporters in Brussels.

“Some governments saying we want to reduce the budget, and afterwards they are the first to ask for increased budgets in the projects that are, of course, for their direct interest.”

Mr Barroso added: “I can tell you from the experience of eight years that the countries that are the first to come to the commission to ask the commission to pay on time are precisely usually the net contributors.”

While he called for a truthful debate with no myths or prejudices, the commission was accused of producing a proposal that was at variance with economic conditions in Europe.

“On the one hand the commission is telling governments to slash their deficits, whilst on the other it is demanding more taxpayer money for the EU,” said MEP Martin Callanan, British Tory leader in the parliament.

“To ask for an almost 7 per cent increase is simply out of touch with the real world.”

In the next phase of the process, European governments will settle on a counterproposal, which will form the basis for a negotiation with MEPs. The governments usually adopt a much lower target than the commission but parliament traditionally seeks to increase it.

In recent years the governments have won out. However, president of the parliament Martin Schulz indicated the governments should not seek to do more with less money.

“The parliament is ready to talk with the council and negotiate with the member states in a fair way, but we will do our utmost to achieve and protect an ambitious European budget,” he said at a joint press conference with Mr Barroso.