In May 2019, over 200 million Europeans elected the 751 members of the European Parliament. With more than 50 percent, the turnout was the highest it has been in the past 25 years. To illustrate, more citizens were entitled to vote at the European elections than the United States as a whole has inhabitants.
The election result gives a clear mandate for more cooperation. Citizens voted because they want to see Europe taking action on climate protection, jobs and the economy, migration, security and defense. The European institutions are now expected to deliver on meeting the expectations expressed by citizens through their vote.
We need to put our common goals and challenges into numbers, instead of nationalizing the EU budget.
To succeed, we need to put our common goals and challenges into numbers, instead of nationalizing the EU budget. If we want to be serious about combating climate change, have more effective border controls, develop an EU defense capability, maintain student-exchange programs and continue to support poorer regions, the EU needs an ambitious investment budget.
This is precisely what the European Union budget is — it is an investment. Over 93 percent of the EU budget goes to citizens, regions, cities, farmers, researchers, students, NGOs and businesses. It is invested in activities on the ground in all EU member states and beyond to improve citizens’ lives. Every euro invested in our common future creates a high value on return. The benefits of the single market alone are €923,56 billion per year for member states, compared to the estimated €130,04 billion in annual contributions from member states to the long-term budget. This constitutes an excellent return.
Over 93 percent of the EU budget goes to citizens, regions, cities, farmers, researchers, students, NGOs and businesses.
It seems however, that not everyone has yet understood these facts. On the one hand, some member states demand more from the EU, while on the other hand, they do not want to increase their contributions. To put it in the words of Oscar Wilde: “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Matching needs with means
As the elected voice of the European citizens, the European Parliament wants a truly realistic EU budget that can address the new challenges and match political commitments and priorities for a stronger and more sustainable Europe. It should promote peace, democracy, the rule of law, human rights and gender equality, boost welfare, economic growth, quality employment, solidarity between member states and citizens, and contribute to fighting climate change. In this sense, the budget needs to be a bridge to the future Europe and provide European added value.
The European Parliament wants a new multiannual financial framework that also revises the way the budget is financed. Parliament advocates the reform of the system of own resources and the introduction of new own resources, such as levies on financial transactions, CO2 emissions or plastic waste. It also calls for the scrapping of the complicated system of rebates. This way, we could end the fight over net contributions, which has no regard for solidarity, or the wider economic benefits derived from EU membership.
However, even the European Parliament’s position represents only the lower, not the upper, limit of the long-term budget. We must in fact evaluate the initial Commission’s proposal in light of the ambitious program by its new President Ursula von der Leyen, the new global challenges and the need for an effective budget for the euro.
The Finnish presidency of the EU Council proposes a figure for Horizon Europe, the program for research and innovation, which is just below €90 billion. On those terms, Europe will not be able to compete globally and drive research, development and innovation in future technologies and key areas. The European Parliament therefore remains committed to investing €120 billion that would secure our competitiveness in this area. Considering that €1 spent can generate a return of up to €11 within the next 25 years, the Council shows that it is held hostage by national thinking.
It is about the value, not the price. We need to center our debate much more around our common challenges, our projects and their benefit for the citizens. There is nothing less than Europe’s future at stake. There should be no winners or losers — only winners. Everyone benefits from a budget that sets the right priorities and is well spent.
Everyone benefits from a budget that sets the right priorities and is well spent.
If we want to succeed, this requires a change of mentality. Past prejudices, cynic and populist negotiating positions need to be put aside and instead, we need to see the common purpose and aim of the EU budget. The European Parliament is eager to start negotiations with the Council of Ministers as soon as possible. Otherwise, there is a risk that the budget may not be ready in time, by end of 2020, to the detriment of jobs, investments, business support, student exchanges, vital research and many other valuable programs. This should not be left to late-night bargaining sessions between member states, but should also engage civil society, public authorities, media and politicians at all levels.
The global and European challenges, the future role of Europe in the world and the long-term EU budget are all closely linked. If we want to shape our common future, we need an ambitious EU budget that delivers on the expectations of the citizens.