In defence of the EU Budget

Labour Party

It doesn’t seem quite right to call something an ‘Austerity Budget’ when it actually increases public spending.  Yet the European Parliament has done exactly that.  It’s no wonder we get bad press on occasion.

Having said that, the draft budget 2012 tries to be in tune with the current austerity climate at the national level. Following all the criticism of the EU budget in the British press, you may be forgiven for not noticing that the European Commission in particular has made an effort to cut back on spending, opting for a freeze of its administrative expenditure for 2012. This has been achieved by significantly reducing expenditure linked to buildings, information and communication technology, studies, publications, missions, conferences and meetings. Furthermore, for the third year in a row, the Commission does not request any additional new posts.

Janusz Lewandowski for the European Commission recently made some pertinent points, including referencing the electric interconnection betweenBritainandIreland, as follows:

Some ask why we would increase the EU budget when Member States face severe austerity measures at home; this is a legitimate question. The main reason for the increase is that we must pay the bills coming from projects from across Europe. Such projects that benefit local communities and businesses would probably never have been launched … without the commitment of EU funding; to stop funding them is unthinkable. We cannot punish our citizens, companies, local and regional authorities who have a right to get their bills paid. Think for instance of the electric interconnection between the United Kingdom and Ireland. The overall EU contribution to this project is over €100 million. Its aim is to give Irish and British citizens greater security of power supply. In 2012, the bills the EU will have to pay for this project will amount to some €24million, more than twice as much as in 2011.”

Today the Culture and Education Committee discussed the Budget as it has been handed down to our particular Committee. Turning the globally agreed figures into programmes specific to a particular Committee is always an interesting exercise. This is when the raw figures actually begin to mean something.

Prioritising is the name of the game when times are hard. We have decided that lifelong learning and sport are our two most important activities for this year. The Lisbon Treaty has given the European Parliament new competencies in sport, especially in sports governance and cross-border transactions. This means the Committee has to carry out additional work. Meanwhile education and lifelong learning are keys areas, benefitting all of us and should therefore continue to be a budget priority.