The Budgets Committee approved on Wednesday by a large majority a draft resolution by Salvador GARRIGA POLLEDO (EPP-ED, ES) to accompany the vote on the amendments for Parliament's first reading of the 2005 Budget. MEPs increased the figure for payment appropriations, which the Council had slashed in its draft budget in July (when it suggested four billion euros less than the Commission's preliminary draft). One major change is the sizeable hike proposed for Structural Measures, largely because the funding for this policy area was spent well during the current financial year.
According to the resolution, these increases are justified by the need for the EU to "provide the necessary budgetary means to meet its stated ambitions". These are to speed up implementation of the Lisbon Strategy so as to boost sustainable development and employment, enhance co-operation on asylum and immigration policies, improve the information targeted at the European public by the EU and strengthen cohesion and external policies.
Unsurprisingly, the EP is heading for a trial of strength with Council over the budget for External Action. MEPs want funding for reconstruction in Iraq (to which the EU promised to contribute 1 billion euros over five years at the Donors' Conference in 2003) to be found by using the flexibility instrument (190 million euros), since the Budgets Committee is proposing to leave no margin in the External Action heading. In July the Council cut a number of budget headings, thus increasing their margins so as to forestall any need to use the flexibility instrument. MEPs are once again strongly opposing the idea that new commitments should be funded at the expense of old priorities, such as humanitarian aid or the fight against poverty.
Another bone of contention between Parliament and Council is that there is no margin within the heading Internal Policies from which the funding proposed for the decentralised EU agencies could come. When the ceilings for the various headings were established in 1999 no one foresaw the explosion in the number of agencies (23 now as opposed to 7 just six years ago), with the impact this would have on staff levels (2695 posts, including the 418 new posts requested for 2005). The funds that need to be earmarked for this purpose are so great that they are jeopardising funding for other key areas. The Budgets Committee, while keen for the agencies to have the resources to function properly, wants their funding to be made the subject of an agreement with Council, so that the EU's priorities as described above are observed.
In the same vein, the committee calls on all the EU institutions to make savings so as to keep within the ceiling for administrative expenditure. It nevertheless proposes that Parliament should approve the request to fund 700 extra posts at the Commission, although 150 posts would be kept in the reserve. These reserve posts could be released provided the Commission meets certain conditions, in particular by allocating more money to the Infopoints.
Lastly, for the heading Rural Development, the committee is proposing extra funding to support young farmers - another policy close to Parliament's heart.
Parliament's first-reading vote of the 2005 budget is due to take place on 28 October at the Strasbourg plenary session. The budgetary conciliation meeting ahead of the Council's second reading is scheduled for 26 November.
The global table showing the outcome of the vote by the Budgets Committee will be available on the EP website at: