Reforming own resources for the EU: Feasible or unrealistic?

Last week, the EP BUDG Committee met to discuss the first assessment report from the High Level Group on Own Resources.

By Hendrik Meerkamp

11 Feb 2015

Last week, the EP BUDG Committee met to discuss the first assessment report from the High Level Group on Own Resources. Please find a summary of the proceedings below. Note that this does not constitute a formal record of the proceedings of the meeting. It is dependent on interpretation and acts as an unofficial summary of the debate

Committee chair Jean Arthuis (ALDE, FR) made a short introductory statement, referring to the challenges that the EU budget faces when it comes to negotiating annual budgets and MFFs with the Member States (whose GNI-based contributions make up the biggest chunk of the EU’s financial resources) and adding that a proper, encompassing system of own resources for EU would make the EU independent of the financial mercy of the EU Member States. He said that a High Level Group on Own Resources (HLG) under the leadership of Mario Monti, former Prime Minister of Italy, has been set up to address this issue and come up with proposals for remedying it.

Mario Monti, chair of the High Level Group on Own Resources, began by saying that the HLG – which brings together himself and representatives appointed by the European Commission (currently Commissioners Timmermans, Georgieva, and Moscovici), the European Parliament (Ivailo Kalfin, Alain Lamassoure, and Guy Verhofstadt) and the Council (Daniel Dăianu, Clemens Fuest, and Ingrida Šimonytė) – took up its work in spring 2015 and has since then worked to take stock of and analyse the challenges related to the EU’s financial resources in the own-resources debate context. He added that today, he is in the European Parliament to present a first assessment report that brings together the results of this stock-taking exercise. He stressed that this is not the end of the work of the HLG but just the first step in proposing concrete solutions for a comprehensive review of the EU’s own resources system. He underscored the importance of the document in guiding the future work of the HLG.

Mr Monti went on to say that the positions in the HLG “have not been entirely homogenous” and “reflect the variety of interests of the budgetary actors.” Nevertheless, he stressed that the work in the HGL has always been constructive – which is important if a revision of the EU’s own resources system is to be successful – and that the group is in his view likely to produce “meaningful recommendations” in the end. In this context, he stressed that the first assessment report, discussed in this debate, is a “sincere document” which has been adopted in the HLG by unanimity event but which is “grey” (as opposed to ‘black’ or ‘white’).

He then said that the tentative conclusion of the first assessment report is that “we must not simply look at different potential own resources technically and in isolation from the broader context” and that it is, after many previous failed attempts to substantially reform the EU’s system of own resources, above all important to “look at the forces that condition a reform,” that is, to “look at the policy, polity, and politics” of EU own resources. He said that a reform will also depend on all actors joining efforts and being constructive.

Mr Monti concluded by speaking on an inter-institutional conference on the EU’s own resources that will take place in 2016 (likely before the presentation of the HLG’s final report but after the HLG has developed some concrete ideas) and that will, Mr Monti stressed, hopefully be an opportunity to “have a real debate” with key representatives from the national parliaments of the EU Member States which “should not just take note” of the debate on a reform of the EU’s system of own resources.

Alain Lamassoure (EPP, FR), one of the three representatives of the European Parliament in the High Level Group, noted that the HGL considered the various resolutions that the European Parliament has worked out on the subject to date when composing the first assessment report.

He also stressed that meetings were already organised with representatives from “almost all EU Member States” and that further meetings are intended to take place in the near future.

He complemented Mr Monti’s speech by noting that the HLG works within a mandate to present proposals for a reform of the EU’s system of own resources that respect the following four principles: simplicity, transparency, equity, and democratic accountability. He added that the following dimensions must be borne in mind, too: Not to bring about additional net tax burdens, to respect the fiscal sovereignty of the Member States as well as the EU treaties, and to stick to the overall approximate size of the EU budget.

Ivailo Kalfin, former MEP (S&D, BG) and one of the three representatives of the European Parliament in the High Level Group, agreed with Mr Monti that all institutions must be kept on board in all discussions – most notably the national governments and the national parliaments of the EU Member States.

Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, BG), one of the three representatives of the European Parliament in the High Level Group, expressed hopes that Mr Monti will be welcomed well in COREPER, too [Mr Monti had an appointment to present the first assessment report there later during the day], saying that it is there where opposition to a reform of the EU’s system of own resources is most likely to emerge (while the European Parliament has advocated reform on various previous occasions). He noted that “real work” in HLG will only start now – when reform proposals are to be developed.

Janusz Lewandowski (EPP, PL) stressed that a reform of the EU’s system of own resources must go hand in hand with efforts to get the citizens put trust and confidence in the EU again.

Gérard Deprez (ALDE, BE) agreed that the work on a reform of the EU’s system of own resources will only become “interesting” once choices about reform proposals are being discussed.


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