Budget and democracy
11 February 2013
At the end of a marathon negotiating session that was more akin to haggling in a bazaar than plush drawing-room diplomacy, the government leaders of the EU's 27 member states finally adopted a European Union budget for 2014-2020.
For the first time in the Union's history, this budget is lower than the previous one: according to some, to reflect the spending cuts adopted by the member states themselves, and, according to others, to limit the financial mess caused by certain subsidies.
At the end of the European Council meeting, everybody was able to claim victory and announce to their respective nations that their views had been upheld. The British were able to claim they had managed to slash the budget. The French were able to say they had saved European subsidies, in particular those for agriculture, and the Germans could allude to the key role they had played in all of the mediation.
Has the issue been settled?
Far from it. Those troublemakers in the European Parliament still have to be taken into account. Only minutes after European leaders finished crowing over their exploit, the Parliament's four main political groups (Conservatives, Social-Democrats, Liberal Democrats and Greens) announced in a joint press statement that "the European Parliament cannot accept today's deal in the European Council as it is," and that "the real negotiations will start now with the European Parliament".
On the eve of the summit meeting, MEPs had already warned Europe's leaders against any choice that would "sacrifice the future of the EU to the current crisis", and called on them "not to use the economic crisis as a pretext to impose austerity on Europe until 2020".
Now that the ball is in their court, the representatives of the peoples of the Union intend to make use of their prerogative to renegotiate the agreement endorsed by the Council. They will thus remind member states that austerity is not an end in itself and that to overcome the crisis Europe needs long-term investments that will sustain growth. They especially want to show that the future of the EU should not be negotiated behind closed doors, under the nose of the only democratically elected institution of the Union. And that is certainly a good thing.