While Brussels seems to be busy discussing horse meat, the other big discussion over the past weeks (and months if not years for that matter) – the Multiannual Financial Framework, or MFF – I find substantially more interesting. Working in the international youth sector, I have been monitoring the debates about the MFF – basically the multi-year budget of the European Union – with one major question in mind – what’s in it for me? Judging from the debate following the agreement of the European Council, it seems I am not the only one with this question in mind.
Member states ask it (hence the whole discussion about net payers and net receivers), special interest groups ask it (and if the farmers get “not a lot” as an answer they’ve got it easy – they just block off half of Brussels with their tractors), and beneficiaries of the numerous programs for anything from citizenship building to movie production to youth programs ask it. In such a context, much needed reform is not likely to be the major outcome.
Creating a 7-year budget framework involving 27 (and soon 28) countries is besides being a politically tough cookie (and perhaps a really really bad idea) also a mathematical challenge. This means that answering the “what’s in it for me question” is not always that easy. Member state governments have chosen different ways of presenting the result of the negotiations – all naturally with the intention of presenting the negotiation results as better than that of other countries. The Finnish government first only released figures on the net payment to the EU per person that the new MFF would imply, and did not give out aggregated figures. The net payment per person decreased in Finland, so clearly this is a message the press people of the prime minister wanted to communicate. At the same time the aggregated Finnish net payment increases € 800 million. The prime minister’s office was substantially slower at communicating that…
Closer to Brussels many voices talk about the need to reform the EU budget in order to ensure the competitiveness of Europe in the future – this means killing of the massive agricultural subsidies and investing in research and innovation. In Finland the criticism towards the deal brought home by Prime Minister Katainen is mainly that the agricultural subsidies to Finnish farmers are too small – reform of the budget is not high on the agenda.
The European Parliament is not happy with the budget deal of the council. The president of the parliament, Martin Schultz seems more interested in quantity than quality. According to Financial Times he is afraid of an amputation of the EU budget, referring to the current proposal by the council on € 960 billion as compared to the budget proposal submitted by the commission on € 1033 billion. Other critical voices, such as that of Guy Verhostadt, the leader of the ALDE group in the European Parliament and that of Alexander Pechtold of the Dutch social liberals D66 voice concerns not with regards to the size of the budget, but to the lack of reform. The Common Agricultural Policy more or less remains – meaning that European tax payers will continue messing up the global market for a wide array of agricultural products. Verhostadet also points out that the current budget has a deficit already from the start. Not a good way to go about business in bad times.
Quality has to take precedence over quantity. Reform minded people seem to agree that this budget could be a step in the right direction. A growth of the EU budget would be rather absurd in times when more or less all European national governments are making cut backs. European leaders have at least agreed that there will be a bit less for all of us asking.
So, what’s in it for me and the youth sector? You will not be surprised to hear that it is a difficult question to answer. According to the European Youth Forum the funding for the new youth (and life-long learning program) Erasmus for all is still very unclear. Hope fully the discrepancy in EU spending between the European cow (€12.7 per cow in the EU) and European youth ( €1.26 per young person in the EU) will be at least in part addressed in the new MFF. And hopefully the discussion will be more about the common good and less about what’s in it for me when the next MFF discussion gets started in about 6 years.