The future of the European Union, with member states moving at different speeds, was one of the main topics of debate during the mid-March plenary sessions in Strasbourg, during which MEPs voted on the guiding principles of the 2018 EU budget.
Although Romania’s president Klaus Iohannis and PM Sorin Grindeanu have rejected the idea of a multi-speed Europe, some officials believe that member states are already moving at different speeds when it comes to further EU integration.
The president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, Jean-Claude Juncker, attended the debates in Parliament and warned against narrowing the future of Europe to a “two-speed” scenario, saying: “I don’t want a new ‘iron curtain’ in Europe.”
Meanwhile, Romanian MEP Siegfried Muresan, rapporteur for the 2018 EU budget, claimed that Romania’s acceptance into the Schengen space would remove some people’s fears regarding a multi-speed Europe.
Although European politicians have said in the last few years that Romanian is technically ready to join the free-circulation Schengen space, the country hasn’t reached a deal with all member states. For joining the Eurozone, Romania doesn’t have an official target, and economists think that the local economy needs to become more competitive before attempting to adopt the euro, which could happen some time after 2020.
New EU budget focuses on growth and jobs
Muresan’s report on the guidelines for the preparation of the 2018 EU budget was approved by 445 votes to 134, with 101 abstentions. The key priorities are growth and jobs, particularly for young people, and security.
“On growth and jobs, I propose that we invest more in infrastructure, innovation and research, that we support more SMEs, and that we invest more in entrepreneurs, especially highly innovative entrepreneurs,” said the MEP, who is part of the EPP Group, the largest political group in the European Parliament, with 217 members from 27 member states.
After the vote in Parliament, the EC is expected to present its proposal for the 2018 draft budget in May and the final version has to be agreed between the Council and Parliament by the end of the year.
During the debates, Budget and Human Resources commissioner Gunther Oettinger said that out of every EUR 100 that a European makes, EUR 50 goes into the public coffers on average and roughly EUR 1 goes into the coffers of the EU.
In 2017, the EU budget’s total level of commitments stands at EUR 157.86 billion, with payments at EUR 134.49 billion.
One of the main ideas that have been gaining ground in Parliament is an increase in the financial resources that can be used by the EU. For instance, some MEPs favor a mechanism under which a share of taxes collected by member states would go directly to the EU budget.
“Today, the problem of Europe is not the speed but the direction. We need a new direction for Europe that includes a strong social pillar and powerful European investment strategy,” said S&D leader Gianni Pittella.
Brexit inching closer
The debates also touched on the planned exit of the United Kingdom from the EU. According to British officials, the UK will trigger article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on March 29. From this moment, the UK and the 27 member states would have two years to negotiate exit terms.
“The doors will always stay open for our British friends,” said Donald Tusk, president of the Council. But he rejected “claims, taking the form of threats, that ‘no deal’ would be bad for the EU. It would be bad for both, but for the UK in particular.”
The EU top brass said that only after the British government triggers Article 50 would there be a reaction from the member states.
Although next year’s budget will not be hit by Brexit, European officials are looking at potential ways to cover the gap in funding that will open up once the UK leaves the EU. In 2015, the UK’s contribution to the EU budget stood at EUR 7.4 billion, while Romania put in EUR 6.5 billion, according to official data.