Written by Clare Ferguson,
The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union have spent three weeks negotiating a provisional agreement on the Commission’s proposed 2017 EU budget, which comes before Parliament’s November plenary session for a vote in plenary on Wednesday. The proposals use the flexibility of the multi-year spending programme, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), to increase spending on youth, jobs, growth and dealing with the migration crisis. Budget commitments scheduled in the proposals total €157.86 billion, with payments amounting to €134.49 billion in funding for EU priorities. However, the recent crises, which challenged the EU’s capacity to act quickly, have highlighted the need for even greater flexibility. Without modifying the ceilings which the MFF imposes on EU spending categories for the 2014-2020 period, the Commission and the Parliament support an increase in budgetary flexibility to spend money where it is most urgently needed.
A recent example of an urgent requirement for funding is the recent earthquakes in Italy, as well as increased occurrences of flooding through the EU. Members will consider an assessment of the EU Solidarity Fund on Wednesday evening, as well as making decisions on two requests for financial assistance. The fund is destined to support EU regions hit by major natural disasters, and to date has allocated almost €4 billion to mitigate the effects of 70 different disasters in 24 European countries. However, the speed with which the funds are disbursed and the lengthy procedures involved have come under sharp criticism.
Turning to citizens’ finances, the European Order for Payment Procedure allows a company or individual in another country to claim for amounts owed by someone in another Member State. However, on Thursday, the Parliament is due to consider a Legal Affairs Committee call to reject the Commission’s implementation report on the procedure and require the preparation of a fresh one. The difficulty hinges on the fact that the Commission assessment was submitted late, and somewhat complacently concluded that no revision of the procedure was necessary – supposed to simplify and speed up the cost of claiming money across borders – when in fact it appears that the benefits of the procedure are little-known to European citizens.
Shielding citizens from a different type of threat is behind Parliament’s determination to ensure that all individuals benefit from a high level of data protection according to European standards when their data is transferred outside the EU, including to the USA. On Wednesday evening, MEPs will thus consider whether to consent to the Council’s conclusion of the EU-US Umbrella Agreement, aimed at complementing specific EU legislation on data protection with stronger safeguards on the protection of personal data exchanged between law enforcement authorities on both sides of the Atlantic. This agreement is a parallel measure to the ‘Privacy Shield’ arrangements, intended to protect data transferred by the private sector.
On Thursday, the President of the Republic of Tunisia, Beji Caid Essebsi, will address a formal sitting of the Parliament. Tunisia has a science and technology agreement with the EU since 2004, and is a Horizon 2020 associated country since January 2016. Tunisia is also one of the 16 European Neighbourhood Policy ‘partner countries’ targeted by the European Neighbourhood Instrument, which funds EU cooperation in promoting development in 16 countries to the south and east, with a view to encouraging reform, more prosperous economies and greater stability in the region. In 2014, Tunisia received €186.8 million towards improving education and training, modernising its security sector. The EU is by far Tunisia’s largest export market . Currently, Tunisia is the subject of proposed associated country status to a new public-public Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area (PRIMA), which seeks to support research to enhance stable access to resources such as food and water in the region.