EU's contested 2014-2020 budget clears last hurdle
(AFP) The EU's contested 2014-2020 budget cleared a final hurdle Tuesday when it was approved by the European Parliament after months of bitter debate between EU institutions over planned spending cuts.
The first-ever trimmed longterm budget was approved by a large majority of MEPs, including the conservatives and the socialists. The Greens and the radical left voted against.
MEPs voted 537 in favour, 126 against and with 19 abstentions.
Known as the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF), the European Union budget provides for 908 billion euros in payments against 960 billion euros in funding commitments, 3.7 percent and 3.5 percent less respectively than in the previous 2007-2013 budget.
The last step for the seven-year blueprint, which sets out the 28-nation bloc's spending priorities according to economic and political targets, will be formal approval in the next days by EU states.
Funds for essential programmes secured - but more could be done
Tuesday's vote marked the end of long bickering that saw the budget go back and forth between austerity-minded governments on the one hand, and the EU's executive European Commission and MEPs, on the other, who wanted more funds to boost growth and jobs.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz, a German Socialist, welcomed the vote, saying it would allow EU funds to flow on time from January 1.
"It means much needed EU funds can be invested into programmes ranging from combatting youth unemployment, support for less-well off regions in the EU via the structural funds, to much needed funding in research and development and support for agriculture."
But he reiterated that "the amounts available from the MFF are far from perfect," regretting the "higher amounts" touted by the parliament and the commission that "would have boosted a job-rich recovery."
Mid-term review in 2016
The leader of the parliament's conservative EPP group, MEP Jean-Luc Dehaene, underlined however that lawmakers had won key improvements to the budget during their long months of battle with tight-fisted EU states.
"We have turned the financial framework 2014-2020 into an investment fund for growth and jobs, by ensuring European money will be used where it is most needed and where our policy priorities lie," he said.
MEPs said they had won the right to a mid-term review of the MFF at the latest in 2016 for the next parliament that will emerge from elections in May.
They also secured additional funds for youth unemployment, the Erasmus university exchange programme and small and medium enterprises which will be front-loaded in the first two years, as well as an agreement for the parliament to seek to raise its own direct income.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said that Tuesday's vote was "crucial to encourage European economic growth and competitiveness."
"The approval will ensure that EU financial support will reach member states on time and money will be allocated from the beginning of next year for key areas, notably tackling youth unemployment."