EU leaders have appealed to Hungary and Poland to immediately approve the newly agreed budget for the next seven years, saying the health pandemic makes this a “necessity.”
The plea comes after a deal was agreed on Tuesday for a huge €1.8 trillion budget, including €750bn for the EU’s flagship NextGenerationEU Coronavirus recovery package.
The total is less than the European Parliament had asked for but the assembly still claims to have secured an extra €15bn for “key” EU programmes, including €7.4bn for healthcare, €2.2bn for the Erasmus student exchange programme and €1.5bn to manage migration.
The key question is now whether the budget deal can be implemented soon, as it still needs to be unanimously adopted by EU Member State governments. Poland and Hungary, the two Member States currently under investigation for allegedly breaching “EU values”, still have the ability to veto the whole deal.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has already signalled that he is ready to do this unless the EU scraps the new so called “Rule of Law” mechanism that would allow the suspension of budget payments to a Member State violating the rule of law.
Around a third of the EU budget, known as the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), will be invested in fighting climate change while the health programme will be tripled to €5.1bn. The Horizon Research Programme funding totals €84.9bn.
The focus now shifts to implementing the budget and, in a joint statement issued late on Wednesday, Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel and David Sassoli, the presidents of the Commission, Council And Parliament respectively, appealed for the deal to be adopted without delay.
"For the first time, receiving funds from the EU budget will be conditional on member states upholding the rule of law. We are a Union based on values of freedom, democracy, and equality; if governments fail to respect these principles then they should not have access to EU funds” European Parliament President David Sassoli
The three said that “time is now of the essence in order to finalise all the necessary steps to enable the MFF and NextGenerationEU to enter into force on January 1 2021.
They called on the European Parliament and Member States to endorse the agreement “as quickly as possible” and emphasised that, “the seriousness of the current epidemiological and economic situation clearly demonstrated the need for swift, coordinated and resolute action.”
The statement concluded, “The entry into force of the MFF and NextGenerationEU are absolute preconditions for a successful exit of the health and economic crisis, as they will provide the budgetary means to finance the necessary actions and programmes.”
Reaction was swift, with Sassoli, in press conference on Wednesday, saying, “Perhaps most importantly, for the first time, receiving funds from the EU budget will be conditional on member states upholding the rule of law. We are a Union based on values of freedom, democracy, and equality; if governments fail to respect these principles then they should not have access to EU funds.”
Christian Ehler, spokesman for the European Parliament’s EPP Group on the Horizon Europe research programme, said the deal “is a victory for researchers, scientists and citizens alike. It was a very tough fight but at least we can say that we managed to claw back €4bn for Horizon Europe which compensates to some extent for the cuts pushed so hard by the member states.”
Socialist Group leader in the Parliament, Iratxe Garcia said, “This is a historic achievement. For the first time since the Multiannual Financial Framework’s introduction, the Parliament has managed to raise the amount initially agreed by the Council. This is very good news because we are living in a historic crisis and we need historic decisions.”
“The second wave of the pandemic is here; our citizens need a proper recovery. Six pillars of European priorities are put forward by the European Parliament in an ambitious and forward looking agenda for reforms and investments in line with existing EU strategies. We will keep our promise to help the next generation avoid being a lockdown generation” Renew Europe MEP Dragoș Pîslaru
Dragoș Pîslaru, the Renew Europe Group’s co-rapporteur on the Recovery and Resilience Facility, said, “We had a duty towards our citizens to succeed, to find a majority in the House and to move this historical recovery plan forward”.
“The second wave of the pandemic is here; our citizens need a proper recovery. Six pillars of European priorities are put forward by the European Parliament in an ambitious and forward looking agenda for reforms and investments in line with existing EU strategies. We will keep our promise to help the next generation avoid being a lockdown generation”.
Rasmus Andresen, the Greens/EFA Group’s negotiator for Parliament on the MFF, said "In tough negotiations with the Member States, Parliament succeeded in achieving improvements in the budget and the COVID-19 recovery package. Thanks to Parliament there will be more opportunities for young people, researchers and better health care.”
Johannes Hahn, European commissioner for budgetary affairs, said the Parliament had reached a “good deal”, showing that “Europe is up to the challenge”.
He particularly welcomed the additional funds and “ambition” that MEPs insisted upon despite the initial cuts proposed by Member States, as well as the introduction of the rule of law mechanism and a clear roadmap towards delivering the EU’s own resources.“Parliament has come out of this well,” he told members.
German Greens MEP Sven Giegold said, “The new budget amounts to €1.074bn for seven years - that is a lot of money, but it is barely more than one percent of Europe's economic output. Parliament originally demanded much more. Unfortunately, however, Parliament's rights in the European treaties are limited in the budgetary procedure.”