Several European Union member states have given a frosty reception to proposals from the European Parliament to increase its 2010 budget to hire 150 extra staff and increase allowances for MEPs by €1,500.
A number of member states, including the UK, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, the Netherlands and Finland, are against agreeing to the Parliament’s revisions if they increase the Parliament’s administrative budget.
Officials from Spain, which holds the presidency of the Council of Ministers, said the issue would be discussed by ambassadors next week, adding that the presidency had not yet taken a position on the Parliament’s request.
An initial look at the Parliament’s revised spending plans by budget specialists from the member states was not welcoming.
Increasing the MEPs’ monthly allowances for hiring office assistants by €1,500, to €19,040, and adding the 150 posts would together cost €13.4 million. The Parliament argues that the extra spending is needed to help cope with a heavier workload. The Parliament is prepared to cut its reserve for buildings by €4m, but it would still need to increase the administrative budget by €9.4m, to €1.6bn.
The total would give the Parliament 20% of the EU’s total administrative budget of €7.9bn – a limit that has been traditionally observed.
The member states, however, are looking to exact savings, in part because they have to find funding for the European External Action Service (EEAS), the new diplomatic service created by the Lisbon treaty. But the member states need the support of the Parliament to revise the EU’s staff regulation and financial regulation to set up the EEAS, so they may yet have to accede to the Parliament’s demands.
MEPs have already threatened to hold up the budget on the EEAS if proposals on setting up the new diplomatic service are not changed.
They want the EEAS to be politically accountable to the Parliament, a demand that has irked member states.
A UK diplomat said of the Parliament’s budget proposal: “There is a genuine mood that this isn’t really acceptable.”
The disquiet is echoed in the European Commission, which itself has had a hiring limit imposed until at least 2013.
A Swedish diplomat said that Sweden was “not too impressed” with the number of extra staff being asked for by the Parliament: “We think it’s quite a high number and not well explained.”
Some diplomats believe that if the Parliament persists with its demands, then the long-standing agreement between the institutions over administrative spending should be called into question.
Under that agreement, the institutions refrain from criticising each other’s internal spending, provided they stay within agreed limits – hence the Parliament’s 20% share.
That agreement will be tested now that the Lisbon treaty is in force, giving the Parliament full say over the entire budget, including those of other institutions.