It is not generally known among the uninitiated that the Budgetary Control (CONT) Committee not only yields considerable power on the EU stage but that is also one of the places where one can observe the very essence of the European Parliament in action.
Take, as the most recent example, the own-initiative (INI) report on the revision of the Financial Regulation (FR).
Currently under way as a legislative proposal in the European Commission, and jointly penned by CONT and the Committee on Budgets (BUDG), [Yes, there are two budget-related committees- Ed.] the FR INI was adopted at the committee stage on Monday.
On the face of it, the resolution calls for “democratic accountability for a modern budget”, as the press release puts it, made all the more urgent because “the NextGenerationEU recovery plan has greatly increased the EU budget, but the bulk of these additional funds enter the EU budget under provisions which exclude Parliament from the decision-making process”.
And any attempt to strip the house of its budgetary oversight, arguably one of its most important functions, will always be met with fierce resistance by the grandest of MEP coalitions.
A closer look at the deputies steering this report, CONT chair Monika Hohlmeier (DE, EPP), and Nils Ušakovs (LV, S&D) for BUDG, reveal two legislators who would, on most subjects, probably be diametrically opposed, but who also have something less obvious in common.
Hohlmeier is a conservative but staunchly pro-European politician, as Bavarian CSU members of the EPP tend to be.
"It is not generally known among the uninitiated that the Budgetary Control (CONT) Committee not only yields considerable power on the EU stage but that is also one of the places where one can observe the very essence of the European Parliament in action"
Ušakov’s party, the Latvian Social Democrats, is a champion of the sizeable Russian and Russophone minority in Latvia, which often has difficulty in being recognised as pro-European due to its tendency to defend the Russian government in areas that most EU politicians deem indefensible.
But there they were on Monday, having been given two minutes each for a final statement before the vote, singing, proudly, happily, from the same hymn sheet, and praising each other’s efforts profusely.
“It was really a pleasure to work with you and the shadows”, Hohlmeier said to Ušakovs, who, with the slight nervousness of the newcomer, returned the compliment by expressing “gratitude to the co-rapporteur and the shadows”.
Regarding the main gist of the report to “respect and improve Parliament’s power over the budget”, Hohlmeier complained that “we now have so many trust funds, side budgets and so on, and every time a new rule is invented for them to circumvent the parliament or our scrutiny”.
Without having to name names, Ušakovs complemented this statement by explaining: “because of the situation and development in various Member States we need, from a political point of view, to increase Parliament’s involvement and scrutiny.”
“Rule of Law conditionality, the strengthening of procurement rules, and fighting conflicts of interest” were all part of the package for Ušakovs, as they are, of course, for Hohlmeier and most of the shadow rapporteurs.
If that does not prove the power of CONT to forge coalitions, I don’t know what does. However, the Financial Regulation resolution also showed CONT’s power to redeem.
""Rule of Law conditionality, the strengthening of procurement rules, and fighting conflicts of interest” were all part of the package for Ušakovs, as they are, of course, for Hohlmeier and most of the shadow rapporteurs. If that does not prove the power of CONT to forge coalitions, I don’t know what does. However, the Financial Regulation resolution also showed CONT’s power to redeem"
As it happens, both Hohlmeier’s and Ušakovs’ careers in domestic politics, prior to becoming MEPs, have been marred by scandal, and both involved accusations of financial irregularities, at least in the form of cronyism.
Twenty years ago, Hohlmeier, the daughter of the greatest, if not entirely uncontroversial post-war Bavarian politician, the late Franz Josef Strauss, was on her way to a glittering political career in her home region herself.
But, having served as the Minister for Education - vastly important in the German federal system, as education is a prerogative of the Länder - for six years, she resigned in 2004 amid allegations of having manipulated internal party candidates’ lists - allegations she has always denied and which have never been proven, but which made her pivot away from domestic politics and towards Europe.
Nils Ušakovs had his moment of reckoning as Mayor of the capital Riga - a post he had held for ten years, as the first politician of Russian descent since Latvia regained independence - in 2019, when he was suspended by the Latvian government, citing several legal and regulatory violations, something he called "absolutely illegal" and "heavily politicised" at the time.
He has fought the decision in court, so far unsuccessfully but, later the same year, he successfully stood in the European elections.
When Ušakovs joined her ranks, Hohlmeier had already established herself as a key legislator in the EP, now presiding over the committee that brought them together as siblings-in-arms for Parliament’s budgetary role.
This theory of redemption works perhaps a little less neatly for the ECR Group’s CONT shadow rapporteur Ryszard Czarnecki.
The Polish PiS politician was dismissed as Parliament’s vice-president in 2018 after having compared his fellow MEP and countrywomen Róża Thun (EPP) to Nazi collaborators.
He voted against the resolution. Did we hear someone just say Conditionality Regulation?