Left Group in European Parliament votes against long-term budget proposals

in:

On June 8th, 2005, the United Left Group of 41 Euro-MPs (the GUE/NGL) voted today against the majority's proposed financial framework for 2007-2013. A spokesperson for the group said that “We consider the Commission's proposal itself to be profoundly inadequate in terms of instruments and insufficient in terms of financial means to face the social, economic and environmental challenges of an enlarged EU.”

The vote comes prior to the meeting of EU heads of government – the European Council – which takes place in Brussels later this month. The meeting, already expected to be tense following the French and Dutch rejections of the proposed European Constitution – will also discuss the so-called “financial perspectives”.

Although the EU’s budget is fixed annually by its budgetary authority – made up of the Council of member state finance ministers and the European Parliament – room for manoeuvre is periodically limited by the establishment of a multi-annual framework. It is this long-term plan, the financial perspectives for 2007-2013, which is currently causing controversy.

Divisions do not always follow traditional left-right lines, nor do they simply reflect the degree of a member state’s or political party’s enthusiasm for the EU or for further integration, Even within the United Left Group, differences of opinion between the poorer southern and richer northern countries have always divided members, though these have usually been handled by a friendly agreement to differ. In general, left MEPs from the south have sought an overall increase in the budget, allowing more funds for social spending. Those from the north have been less keen on seeing budgetary growth, arguing instead for a redistribution of resources away from the worst aspects of the Common Agricultural Policy and other wasteful policies, as well as a more vigorous clampdown on fraud. Moneys freed up by such actions could then be spent on social programmes, generating useful employment and protecting the environment.

The argument does not simply reflect what goes on at member state level, where the left has usually stood out for higher levels of progressive taxation as a redistributive mechanism. In that case, the counter-argument is to leave the money in the pockets of private individuals or the coffers of corporations. At the EU level, on the contrary, the argument is entirely about who controls public money, for if the overall budget is not increased it is the member states which hang on to the cash.

The left group linked its rejection of the Commission's proposal for the financial perspectives for 2007-2013 to its rejection of the European Constitution, arguing that the perspectives were designed simply to provide the financial means for the Constitution's implementation, putting the emphasis on competition and competitiveness, security and militarisation. Because of this, the group was able to unite behind a negative vote, despite the persistence of those differences discussed above.

“This is unacceptable to us as it was to the people of France and Holland,” the GUE-NGL spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that the Group felt that the proposal was “a missed opportunity to explore new priorities and alternatives and to respond to the legitimate expectations of citizens. It worsens the Commission's proposal, presenting an average budget below the Commission's proposal of about 1.07% of EU GNP.” This statement is surprising, however, as the Swdish and Finnish elements of the GUE, along, most probably, with the Dutch SP, would certainly oppose any such overall increase.

Referring to the EU's neoliberal “Lisbon Process”, a plan to enhance competitiveness at the expense of working people's wages and conditions, as well as of social provision and the welfare state, she continued: “We reject also the 'Lisbonisation' of the financial perspectives and the adaptation of the Structural Funds to the neo-liberal Lisbon agenda and its review. We consider that the amounts allocated to social and environment issues should be increased and reject the proposed increases on Justice and Home Affairs and on the Common Security and Foreign Policy. We consider that European Regional Policy is an indispensable tool for promoting social and economic cohesion and that the structure and the amounts proposed are not adequate to respond to the cohesion needs of an enlarged EU.” In this case, it is probable that she genuinely spoke for the whole group.

The GUE/NGL tabled an alternative motion containing concrete proposals for the next financial framework that promote economic and social cohesion in an (ongoing) enlarged EU, create a macro-economic framework supportive of sustainable development and employment and promote an effective policy for cooperation and development with the developing countries. This, however, was a political gesture: the resolution itself was never likely to be successful.