The European Parliament recently adopted its resolution on the next financial period (2014-2020) for the EU. If you are not familiar with the concept of the multiannual financial framework (MFF), let's say that the MFF is to the annual EU budget what the monthly limit on your credit card is to your monthly bill for that card. The former sets annual expenditure limits whereas the latter is about "real" money. Also, but that is true of any budget, the MFF constitutes the political priorities of Europe for a seven-year period.
The resolution is the Parliament's response to the conclusions of the 8 February 2013 European Council (meeting of European heads of states and governments). Now we know the official positions of the two EU institutions that must agree on the future financial period, we can finalise the negotiations.
In the coming weeks, it will be the Commission's role to help the Council and the European parliament find an agreement for the 2014-2020 financial period. And Europe does need that agreement. We must ensure that future EU budgets will help Europe's businesses, scientists, students and NGOs. Therefore the keyword must be "sense", as in common sense, sense of responsibility and also sense of urgency.
Pooling Europe's resources in science projects or to fight youth unemployment for instance will always be more efficient than if 27 Member States act individually, that's what the EU budget is about.
The same applies to the Commission's proposal for a "Connecting Europe facility" for the next MFF, because we believe that every Member State should be able to knock at its neighbour's door if and when it faces shortages of power, be it gas or electricity while this is not the case today. Because we believe that Europe's rail infrastructure should no longer be a patchwork of unconnected national grids, that people and goods should be able to travel across the whole of Europe without having to change train several times. Because we believe that in the 21st century Europe should be at the forefront of electronic services such as e-procurement or e-invoicing.
I also believe that both Council and Parliament understand the Commission's argument in favour of a more flexible EU budget. A leaner EU budget should be flexible enough to adapt quicker to changing circumstances.
By the same token, no one living in the real world could justify the heavy load of bureaucracy imposed on beneficiaries of EU funds. Ask any private company, any laboratory or student who has ever had to overcome the unnecessary maze of rules: current rules make MENSA tests look like kindergarten games! Surely our elected politicians have a duty to make such funds available to mere mortals, especially in times of crisis. That is why the Commission has proposed to simplify those rules in the next financial period.
Along the same line, we must improve the way research and Cohesion funds are allowed. Today, the only criteria are technical, (does such project fit in this programme? Were the forms filled-in properly?); we owe it to EU taxpayers that in future the main criterion be: does this project actually make a difference on the ground?
The Multiannual Financial Framework is much more than just a table showing what expenditure ceilings are allowed per year and per EU policy; it is a once in seven year chance for the European Union to agree on political priorities for the future, an opportunity to send a strong signal to its citizens and to the whole world about where it sees itself in the future.
For all those reasons, we need an agreement, but we most certainly need a good agreement. The definition of the word "good" in this context? Simple: the MFF 2014-2020 must focus on economic growth, innovation, education, infrastructure while modernising the rules that govern the EU budget by cutting red tape.
When close to thirty countries living next to each other on a small portion of this planet act, work and speak with one voice, each of them becomes stronger. That is what the negotiations on the 2014-2020 financial framework are about.