The finance ministers of France and the UK are leading calls to freeze the EU’s 2012 budget after a clash with the European Commission over its proposal to increase spending for next year by 4.9%.
Christine Lagarde, France’s finance minister, said any increase in the budget “should certainly not be even at the level” of this year’s 2.9% increase over the EU’s 2010 budget. “A serious effort should be made not to increase it by more than what inflation will be,” Lagarde told a meeting of EU finance ministers on Tuesday (17 May).
George Osborne, the UK’s finance minister, told Janusz Lewandowski, the European commissioner for financial programming and budget, that his proposal was “unacceptable” and urged him to come back with a more realistic proposal which included deeper cuts in administrative spending.
Lewandowski hit back, saying that despite calls for austerity from member states, many of them continued to increase spending in national budgets. “We are cutting and you are growing,” he said.
Lewandowski said that the Commission had followed a “strict approach” to administrative costs.
He said the largest increases in the proposed €137.7 billion budget were for regional aid projects in poorer member states, which the EU was already legally obliged to pay.
He acknowledged that the increase was “politically very difficult to defend”, but said, “ I don’t want to have to go to the [European] Court of Justice”.
Germany, Italy, Finland, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands all backed the French and British demands to limit EU spending next year.
Central and eastern European countries, including Bulgaria, Romania and the Czech Republic, defended the 4.9% increase. They said the increased spending was needed to pay for vital joint infrastructure projects currently under way in their countries.
Members of the European Parliament’s budgets committee have called for spending in next year’s EU budget to focus on jobs and growth. A draft mandate for negotiations, which will be debated on Monday (23 May), says
the proposed 4.9% increase is the “bare minimum” needed to fund EU policies and commitments.
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