What is your interest in budgetary policy?
Budgets provide you with a holistic overview of all policies of the EU in a way that no other committee or policy area can. At the end of the day, the budget covers virtually everything. It gives you an insight into one of the essential tools the EU needs to transpose its political objectives into reality.
How important is the post-2020 MFF compared to previous budgets? Can you give a political and historical perspective?
The EU’s multi-annual financial framework (MFF) is always important, because it lays out the EU budget for the next seven years. We need this, because we cannot build major infrastructure such as a highway or an airport in a single year. It provides member states, regions and non-state beneficiaries with financial predictability. The framework is about transposing the EU’s policy priorities into reality.
As to whether this upcoming MFF is more important than previous ones, the answer is yes. The EU has gone through two major challenges in the last 10 years, the economic and financial crisis and the migration crisis.
We now face a fundamental decision as to whether we are ready to equip the EU with the instruments it needs to tackle such crises in the future and to strengthen the euro. We also want to combat terrorism, and must cooperate more in terms of security and defence at a European level.
The MFF will basically shape how the EU will look in the future. What should it do differently and in what areas should it receive further competences? If it receives more competences, and we expect more from the EU, then it is clear that the budget needs to be increased accordingly.
With Brexit causing a massive hole in the finances for the next MFF, is this an opportunity for the EU to rethink where it can add value?
The short answer to this is, yes. Despite the rebates the UK received, it was a net contributor to the EU budget. Clearly, when the UK leaves us, there will be, on average, around €10bn less available to the EU per year. Thus the 27 remaining members will be confronted by the following question: Do we accept a smaller budget, which means the Union will do less, or are we ready to increase the budget accordingly?
However, the latter is unpopular in many member states, such The Netherlands and Austria. In fact, in Austria it is written in the governing programme that it should not contribute a single euro more than its current level of contribution.
To avoid such difficult debates, where every country wants to contribute as little as possible, while receiving as much benefit as possible, I think the discussions should begin by setting the priorities of the MFF for the next seven years.
What do we expect the EU to deliver? If you expect the EU to deliver greater safety, higher security and better control of the external borders, then it’s clear you need to equip it with the right level of budget. If we start talking about amounts, then discussions will be difficult, inconclusive and divisive.
We must convince the taxpayer that money is well spent at European level, which means greater efficiency.
Performance-based budgeting is needed, where we can be sure where each euro is going. We need to show taxpayers that we are spending on projects where it is better used at an EU level than at national level. For example, the successful research and innovation project Horizon2020 is about financing research at a European level.
The majority of the EU member states now use the euro. Will the future MFF be a budget for the eurozone or the whole of the EU?
When the UK leaves us, there will only be one country within the EU that is not obliged to use the euro - that country is Denmark. In addition, the treaty of the European Union states clearly that the euro is the currency of the EU.
What I am trying to say is that in the long-term, there will be greater convergence between the EU and the eurozone, so what do we do with the EU budget in that sense?
First, we should make sure we use it to increase cohesion and convergence within the EU, make it more crisis-resilient, more competitive and to help prevent shocks.
The second thing it should be used for is to support countries that have not yet joined the eurozone and help them with that process. Countries should only join once they have fulfilled the macroeconomic criteria as stated in the Maastricht treaty and when their economy is strong enough to face competition from the rest of the eurozone.
What role do you believe the European Parliament should play in the future MFF negotiations, and what should its priorities be compared to the Commission and Council?
The more united the Parliament, the greater the role it will play in the MFF negotiations. When I was general rapporteur for the EU budget 2018, throughout the negotiating process I had the backing of most of the Parliament. This meant my negotiating position with the Council and Commission was strong.
Therefore, the Parliament needs to put forward its political priorities for the budget, it needs to be decisive, its priorities need to be clear, and in line with what the people of Europe expects the EU to deliver. Plus having the backing of a bold majority in Parliament.
Of course, I want to do well for the people in my home country, but while I am doing so, I want to be sure the decisions are good for the EU as a whole. If the Parliament thinks about the EU, it will have a strong position in the negotiations with Council and Commission.
When we were negotiating the 2018 budget at the end of last year I was defending Horizon2020 because I realised we need more money for research and innovation.
Does my country, Romania, benefit significantly from this extra spending on research? No it doesn’t, since most of that money will go to Germany, the UK, France and the Netherlands; however, it’s the right thing to do so I defended it.
How does the European Parliament ensure member states pay their full share towards the budget?
Member states make commitments, but then when it comes down to making the payments, they try to pay as little and as late as possible. David Cameron, the former UK Prime Minister, was an advocate of this approach.
The consequence was that the EU accumulated a backlog of unpaid bills. This meant that the UK did not pay the full amount it had committed too and this is why its leaving bill is so high. Commitments must be respected by member states.
If something unexpected happens within the seven years of the MFF - quite likely, considering its length - you need sufficient flexibility within the budget to use the money where it is needed for eventualities not anticipated when the MFF was agreed.
Political differences are emerging between central European members, including Romania, and western European members, over changes in the rule of law, judicial systems and distribution of migrants. How concerned are you that the upcoming MFF negotiations will be used to punish or influence domestic policies within these countries?
The independence of the judiciary is, without doubt, under attack in several countries, including my home country Romania. We should fight this, and people expect the EU to play an active role in ensuring the rule of the law and the judiciary is respected in every corner of Europe. The EU has a legitimate remit to do this, since the independence of the rule of law is one of the conditions that member states must commit to when they join.
It is also important to know that each member state knows that the rule of law is applied equally in all parts of Europe. Since citizens from different parts of the EU travel and trade in other parts of the EU, you want to be certain that law is respected everywhere.
Yet if we do not have effective tools to ensure that members states respect commitments to the independence of the rule of law, then we need to create them.
If you make funding based on the condition of respecting the rule of law, and a malicious government has funding withheld, who is hurt? The answer is the students from that country that can’t access Erasmus, communities that will see infrastructure projects delayed, farmers and researchers.
The key question is how do you make sure the rule of law is not attacked? The solution is by applying pressure on the politicians but not harming innocent people that cannot be blamed for the actions of their politicians. Therefore, I am sceptical about putting conditions on future MFF funding as it will hurt the wrong people.