Chair of General Affairs Council delivers mid-term assessment of the Irish Presidency to the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels.
Eamon Gilmore, Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, addressed the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels this evening.
In a wide-ranging speech assessing Ireland’s Presidency so far (see full text and check against delivery), the Tánaiste focused on his priorities between now and the end of June in terms of concrete decisions contributing to jobs and growth.
In particular, he spoke in detail on the current state of play with the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF):
“Of course, when looking for sources of stability and of growth one of the greatest instruments at our disposal is the EU budget itself – the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014-2020.
Agreement on the MFF would be a significant boost to confidence. It would show that the institutions are capable of working constructively together to deliver results that can have a real, lasting and beneficial effect. It would put a secure framework of funding for the Union in place for the period ahead.
Táinaiste - When looking for sources of stability and of growth one of the greatest instruments at our disposal is the EU budget itself – the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014-2020
We see the MFF as very much part of the recovery agenda.
I think it would be helpful if I outlined here this evening the current situation on the MFF negotiations between the Council and the Parliament.
I must start by saying that I am very disappointed with the decision taken by the Parliament to cancel the meeting scheduled for today. I think my colleagues at the General Affairs Council will be similarly disappointed.
For some time now, we have been engaged closely with the Parliament in an effort to commence these negotiations. We had a very good discussion at the General Affairs Council on Monday, which gave the Presidency a mandate to take forward work on the issues of concern to the Parliament. Accordingly, we had expected to meet the European Parliament’s Contact Group here in Brussels earlier today. In the end they were not prepared to meet us. I regret this very much.
Let me recall some of the background to these discussions.
The Parliament has a very important role here. Its consent is of course required to the MFF as a whole, and Parliament is the co legislator for the overwhelming majority of the implementing legislation. I think it is fair to acknowledge that this has not been fully appreciated by all.
As Presidency, we are working well with the Parliament across all sectors. We have invested hugely in this Council Parliament relationship because we see it as vital to the good functioning of the Union. It is my clear intention, and it is essential, that this excellent relationship with the Parliament continues.
The background to the MFF is of course that the Commission made its proposal as long ago as 2011. After very extensive negotiations, the European Council reached agreement on the MFF in February of this year. That in itself was a very major step considering the variety of interests at play – it was a very significant achievement.
The Parliament adopted its position on the negotiations in a Resolution at its plenary on 13 March.
The Parliament set out clearly the issues of importance to it: Revision of the budget, flexibility, Own Resources and the Unity of the EU Budget. In addition, the Parliament stated clearly that it would not open negotiations on the MFF until the commission proposed an Amending Budget for 2013, thus linking the two issues explicitly.
The Commission made its formal amending budget proposal on 27 March.
Since then, I, and the Minister for European Affairs, have had extensive contacts with the Parliament, and our approach has been, in line with the Parliament's own resolution, that the negotiations on the MFF and the amending budget would run in parallel. It goes without saying that the outcomes are entwined.
Monday’s General Affairs Council sent a strong signal of its determination to find a solution on the 2013 budget issue, and made clear its readiness to engage on the MFF issues of importance to the Parliament. We did this in order to clear the way for talks.
All the conditions for negotiations are now in place. Negotiations have not yet formally started, and time is not on our side.
The MFF is central to progress on jobs and growth in Europe. If we fail to agree in good time, the Union will struggle to plan, manage and programme the expenditure of 960 billion euro of public money. That puts in jeopardy the efficient planning and spending of 325 billion euro in Cohesion funds for example, money that our regions and citizens are depending on, not least to provide jobs during this economic crisis. And the perception of the Union’s capacity to take hard decisions will suffer if we are unable to agree on a solid financial basis on which to implement the Union's programmes.
Tánaiste - In our view, everything is in place for negotiations to commence without delay – and advance in parallel: that is what the Union and its citizens need. Clearly we will need to discuss further with the Parliament and Commission how we take this forward.
That is why this is urgent.
As Chairman of the General Affairs Council I have a responsibility to the Council to advance work on this in accordance with the Treaty provisions.
The European Council has already given us a general mandate to work on the MFF. This was reconfirmed by the General Affairs Council on Monday. And the way to make progress and reach agreement is to engage in detailed negotiations with the Parliament on the specifics.
For our part, in the Council, the necessary preparatory work is well underway.
So me be very clear. There is no absence of commitment on the part of the Council and this was made clear at the General Affairs Council last Monday.
I stress that it is important to note just how significant the commitment we made on Monday is.
The Council also is willing to work urgently and constructively on the Commission’s proposal for a draft amending budget for 2013 with the objective of reaching agreement in the coming weeks on a substantial budget to meet clearly justified payment needs; and the ECOFIN Council will pursue this at its meeting on 14 May.
The Council will also follow very carefully the evolution of the budget throughout the year and take any necessary further steps to ensure the Union can face its obligations throughout the year.
The Council is prepared to work urgently, earnestly and in good faith on the annual budget 2013 issue, in parallel with the MFF issue. I stress ‘in parallel’.
It seems clear to me, now that the issues are so explicitly linked, we need make progress on both fronts.
To sum up: In our view, everything is in place for negotiations to commence without delay – and advance in parallel: that is what the Union and its citizens need.
Clearly we will need to discuss further with the Parliament and Commission how we take this forward. I was available to do so today.
I note the suggestion of a summit meeting in the coming period. Of course the Council is always eager to advance work. But there is considerable work to advance now, and I and the Council would prefer to get on with it today.