Politics Life at 28

European Council: The selfishness waltz

7 February 2013
Le Monde Paris

The EU's 27 leaders are now meeting to discuss the European Union's 2014-2020 budget and will probably reach an agreement. But they will do so by making the usual petty deals that compromise the future, warns Le Monde.

It has become a tradition: the European heads of state and of government meet for a first summit in which differences are noted and which then fails. A second meeting usually allows the necessary compromise to be found in order to move ahead. And so it should be with the European Council meeting on February 7-8, which should agree the Union's 2014-2020 budget after first failing to do so in the autumn of 2012.

But perhaps moving ahead is putting it too strongly. This budget proposal is a relic of the past. Its structure is 20 years old. It represents less than 1 per cent of the Union's wealth. It is dominated by spending on agriculture and development aid to regions while innovative projects suffer variable adjustments.

It is difficult to garner enthusiasm for such an exercise. The French assert that agriculture spending is an investment for the future but their own experience belies this since their agro-business exports are now below those of Germany or the Netherlands.

Future investments sacrificed

The countries of the South and of the East are defending development aid, but they have not shown real efficiency in the face of the euro crisis. As for true investments in the future, they have been sacrificed. Europeans are unable to launch genuine research programmes and their infrastructure projects are a revival of major construction projects proposed by [former Commission president] Mr [Jacques] Delors – in 1994.

We have a right to expect much better. Europe is going through the most serious economic and social crisis since the war. Its currency nearly failed. Yet, it is making paltry changes. Although supporters of greater spending have found a just cause in defending the Erasmus university exchange programme, they themselves are not convinced of the value added to the budget.

Cutting their contributions

The result is inevitable: everyone is trying to reduce their contribution. David Cameron has already rescued the British rebate. The Germans, Swedes, Dutch and Austrians are attempting to follow suit. The high point of this horse-trading is that discussions are focused on the spread between promised spending and actual spending to reconcile the donor and beneficiary countries.

This type of bartering is unworthy of Europe. It is time to devise a budget that prepares the future and shows true, federal solidarity for the regions hardest hit by massive unemployment. When they received François Hollande in Strasbourg, the MEPs warned that, as it stands, they will not adopt the budget.

They are not wrong. Europe would not be deprived of its resources because its budget is renewed annually. Europeans must take advantage of the 2014 elections to define their collective budget aspirations. The new parliament and commission would then have a mandate to prepare the future. At last.

Factual or translation error? Tell us.