MEPs want renegotiation of EU budget deal

MEPs voting in Strasbourg - file pic Many MEPs are unhappy about the governments' deal to cut the EU budget

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The European Parliament has demanded further negotiations on the EU's multi-year budget, after national leaders agreed to a cut of 3.3%.

Euro MPs adopted a resolution saying they would only accept the deal on certain conditions.

They want governments to settle outstanding budget bills, to avoid the risk of a shortfall.

The MEPs also want a flexible 2014-2020 budget, so that money not spent in one area can be used in another if needed.

The deal was reached by EU leaders in February at their second attempt, after a battle between countries which wanted their EU contributions to fall in line with national austerity cuts, and others which wanted to see EU spending maintained or boosted.

Many MEPs, along with the European Commission, fell into the second category.

"Today's vote is a clear indication that the European Parliament has accepted the responsibilities given to it by the treaties and will fight for an improved budget for the EU," said the leader of the Socialist grouping in the chamber, Hannes Swoboda, on Wednesday.

Flexibility call

Explaining the demands, a European Parliament official told BBC News that the EU was obliged to pay 217bn euros (£191bn; $283bn) because of contracts already agreed under the current multi-year budget.

The EU treaty says the 27-nation bloc's budget must always balance, so it cannot accumulate debts, unlike national governments.

The official, who asked not to be named, also said the EU still had 16.2bn euros to pay for last year's commitments to projects in Europe's least developed regions.

The parliament argues that such debts must be settled as soon as possible, so as not to jeopardise important long-term research programmes and innovation projects, which are priority areas for the EU in the current economic crisis.

On flexibility, the parliamentary official said: "If there's a smaller budget they have to be able to use the available money in the best possible way.

"If you lack payments for a research contract you cannot sign the tender, but if there is money left over from rural development then that should be used for more urgent issues."

Figures not disputed

Most of the political groups in the parliament agreed on the resolution, which was voted through by 506 votes to 161 (provisional figures).

The resolution will be the negotiating mandate for MEPs when they try to finalise the budget with the EU governments, who are collectively called the Council.

The budget, officially called the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF), has to be agreed by the end of this year, otherwise various EU programmes will face the serious risk of a funding shortfall.

The MEPs are also calling for a mid-term review of the budget, to give newly-elected MEPs and the next European Commission a say after the European elections next year.

The resolution says parliament rejects the Council's conclusions on the MFF and believes the Council has ignored parliament's new powers in budgetary policy, acquired under the Lisbon Treaty.

However, the resolution does not explicitly reject the 3.3% cut agreed by the Council at its marathon Brussels summit last month.

The European Conservatives and Reformists group, which includes the UK Conservatives, put forward its own resolution, saying it accepted the budget ceilings set by the Council, as "a pragmatic and realistic response to difficult fiscal and economic conditions", but this was rejected.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron pushed hard to cut the EU budget at the Brussels summit, with support from some other countries including Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.

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