This Blog will feature opinions on European affairs by members of the Centre for European Politics. Comments are welcome in English.

EU Budget for 2013: what's all the fuss?

In recent days the European Commission has asked for € 3.9 billion extra to supplement the EU’s annual budget of 2013. This has unleashed some predictable opposition from Eurosceptics including those in the British government:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-24286784

What is at stake and what is the fuss?

First of all, the EU’s annual budget usually works out at around 130 to 140 billion euro in payments. The amount requested by the Commission is for bills due (and originally agreed) for the annual budget just for this year. This money is neither for next year nor for the far larger multiannual agreement for the years 2014-2020, which has still not been ratified by the European Parliament.

So how come the Commission waits until late September before asking for a top-up on the budget for 2013? According to EU rules, annual budgets are agreed in two figures: commitments and payments. Commitments are the maximum to which the EU “commits” itself to spend in any one policy area. Payments are only fully released once all the conditions of the commitments have been met. Because conditions are never met by 100% payments always come in lower than commitments. EU spending is planned over multiannual projects – hence one of the reasons why spending is agreed within a multiannual framework. Commitments agreed in the annual budget of 2010 trigger the award of contracts and the start of spending programmes. Some payments for those programmes are released up front with the balance payable upon completion when the recipient can show that the programme is successfully delivered and that expenditure is justified. Usually this takes place after two or three years on a basis called N+2 or N+3.

The Commission very simply is claiming that the original budget for 2013 agreed 10 months ago provided insufficient payments to cover what is due for contracts and commitments agreed by the Council of the EU (representing national governments) in 2010 and 2011 under N+2 or N+3. Regional governments and other recipients have made justified claims for payments based on commitments from several years ago. The British government claims that such payments don’t need extra amounts to be voted but could be funded through recycling unspent funds elsewhere in the budget.

In the end, legal arguments are made by the Commission and the European Parliament. Certain national governments will try to oppose voting the funds due to domestic Euroscepticism. However, in the background is multiannual budgeting for 2014-2020. The European Parliament has made very clear that it will not approve the new multiannual agreement that takes effect at the start of 2014 unless all the outstanding bills for 2013 are paid by the Council. The proposed multiannual agreement cuts commitments and payments by 5% compared to the previous agreement. No agreement, if that is what happens, will mean that the current agreement for 2007-2013 will roll over with an increase for inflation.  In other words, if the British want to pay less with the new agreement, for 2013 only they will have to pay more. The dispute on the final € 3.9 billion for the budget of 2013 is therefore worth more than the sum of its parts.

 

Posted on Friday, September 27, 2013 at 07:14PM by Registered CommenterDr Giacomo Benedetto | CommentsPost a Comment

46% of UKIP MEPs defect or are expelled

Ten days after my last piece on the haemorrhage of UKIP’s MEPs, Godfrey Bloom has also left the party. This means that of the 13 MEPs elected for UKIP in 2009, 6 have now gone. 6 out of 13 is 46%. 

A party that loses 46% of its parliamentarians through defection or expulsion in little over four years is not a normal party. UKIP is expected to win the 2014 EP elections in the UK and yet anyone voting UKIP deserves to be informed that based on previous experience there is a 46% probability that any of its elected MEPs will defect or adopt positions so extreme that they are expelled.

Besides his comments on the status of women who don’t clean behind the fridge, Bloom may have been kicked out of UKIP for other more embarrassing reasons about which I write here. He was a founding member of the extreme-right and racist European Alliance for Freedom along with Flemish, French and Austrian MEPs from the extreme-right.

 

Posted on Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 11:01PM by Registered CommenterDr Giacomo Benedetto | CommentsPost a Comment

German Election Blog: Global Governance in the German Elections

Global Governance in the German Elections: Not exactly a Priority - Anja Jakobi

The upcoming German elections are of high significance of Germany and Europe as a whole. However, the outcome will probably leave fewer marks on how Germany behaves with respect to wider foreign policy and global governance. The European Union remains the most urgent issue on the international agenda of Germany, even if it is mainly reduced to questions of the Euro and the protection of German savings and money (see also the other analyses in this blog).

With regard to other global issues, like Syria, military operations abroad or interventions are rejected by many Germans, while peace and diplomacy is usually highlighted as the essence of global governance: For instance, both the Liberals and the Social Democrats explicitly mention ‘peace politics’ as aim of their foreign policy in their programs.[1] The German reluctance towards interventions was recently witnessed when Merkel was not immediately signing the declaration on Syria at the G20 summit: A move that seemed to isolate Merkel internationally, but was unlikely to result in a loss of votes.[2] If Merkel remains chancellor, her reluctance in taking quick decisions might overshadow even the most vivid Minister of Foreign Affairs. This is even more likely given that the Chancellors’ Office in recent years increasingly challenged the primacy of the Foreign Ministry regarding foreign policy issues.[3]

The election outcome is most likely to determine the priorities of efforts by which issues are tackled. If the current government remains in place, it is likely that the new Foreign Minister is again of the FDP, given this party’s traditional interest in foreign policy. As a result, economic priorities are higher, while global social issues or development are less likely to be tackled intensively.

A permanent seat in the UN Security Council had been a long term goal of German foreign policy, but only the current program of the CDU/CSU still formulates the idea for a German seat – and it does so with a view to a long-term representation of the EU as a whole.[4] With regard to security and trade, SPD and Greens aim to restrict Germany’s international weapons’ trade:[5] the country is currently one of the largest weapons’ exporters and facing increasing domestic debates about exports to countries that violate human rights. The coalition so far pursued a rather pragmatic policy in this field, often emphasizing the economic interests in such a trade.         

The current coalition would progress on negotiating a transatlantic free trade union with the United States. This is explicitly mentioned as a goal in the programmes of CDU/CSU and FDP. In contrast, the SPD focuses more on ILO and WTO reforms, and the Greens refer to their preference of multilateral trade agreements.[6] A SPD/Green government would thus be a more reluctant partner in these negotiations, and such a coalition would place more emphasis on social and environmental impact of such treaty, including protectionist measures. A large coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD would highly value economic prosperity, but would likely agree to higher protectionism than an FDP partner.

A highly visible impact of a coalition change would likely be global environmental governance: Environmental policy is of great interest to many Germans, in particular global climate change. In that sense, the surprising turn of the Merkel government from pro-nuclear energy to alternative energies after the Fukushima nuclear accident mirrored the mood of large part of the German population.[7] However, global environmental governance is more likely to be a side issue if the current coalition will be re-elected again. The German government liberal FDP as partner in the coalition usually puts economic questions first, which also appeals to a significant base of the conservative CDU/CSU.

Quite the contrast, global environmental questions related to climate change and other topics would likely to be more prominent in a coalition government of the SPD and the Greens: The Greens are a party that defines itself as being primed for developing environmental protection; and the current programme mentions ecological questions with regard to domestic and international policies.[8] But also the SPD aims to start new international activities against climate change.[9] While a SPD/Green government would thus likely push for a renewed global climate initiative, a large coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD would probably meet somewhere in the middle, environment being a concern for both of them, but often secondary to economic and social questions.

All in all, the German election is unlikely to stir major changes in most areas of global governance. The most visible differences in the German managing of global governance are likely to be high profile issues of the parties, like the environment or a transatlantic free trade zone.

Dr Anja Jakobi is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London


[1] SPD Wahlprogramm: ‘Das Wir entscheidet’, p. 110; http://www.spd.de/linkableblob/96686/data/; FDP Wahlprogramm: ‚Bürgerprogramm 2013: Damit Deutschland stark bleibt’, p. 85, http://www.fdp.de/files/408/B_rgerprogramm_A5_Online_2013-07-23.pdf

[2] http://www.dw.de/merkels-syrien-patzer-und-der-wahlkampf/a-17076224

[3] http://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/deutschland/machtverschiebung-kanzleramt-entreisst-westerwelle-europapolitik/3374752.html

[4] CDU/CSU Wahlprogramm‚Gemeinsam erfolgreich für Deutschland’, p. 75 http://www.cdu.de/sites/default/files/media/dokumente/regierungsprogramm-2013-2017-langfassung-20130911.pdf

[5] SPD Wahlprogramm: ‘Das Wir entscheidet’, p. 110; http://www.spd.de/linkableblob/96686/data/

Gruenes Wahlprogramm 2013: ‚Zeit für den grünen Wandel’ , p. 19; http://www.gruene.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Dokumente/Wahlprogramm/Wahlprogramm-barrierefrei.pdf

[6] CDU/CSU Wahlprogramm‚Gemeinsam erfolgreich für Deutschland’, p. 16

http://www.cdu.de/sites/default/files/media/dokumente/regierungsprogramm-2013-2017-langfassung-20130911.pdf; FDP Wahlprogramm: ‚Bürgerprogramm 2013: Damit Deutschland stark bleibt’, p. 23, http://www.fdp.de/files/408/B_rgerprogramm_A5_Online_2013-07-23.pdf; SPD Wahlprogramm: ‘Das Wir entscheidet’, p. 113-114; http://www.spd.de/linkableblob/96686/data/; Gruenes Wahlprogramm 2013: ‚Zeit für den grünen Wandel’ , p. 299; http://www.gruene.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Dokumente/Wahlprogramm/Wahlprogramm-barrierefrei.pdf

[7] http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/out-of-control-merkel-gambles-credibility-with-nuclear-u-turn-a-752163.html

[8] Gruenes Wahlprogramm 2013: ‚Zeit für den grünen Wandel’ http://www.gruene.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Dokumente/Wahlprogramm/Wahlprogramm-barrierefrei.pdf

[9] SPD Wahlprogramm: ‘Das Wir entscheidet’, p. 114; http://www.spd.de/linkableblob/96686/data/

Posted on Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 05:15PM by Registered CommenterDr Alister Miskimmon | Comments Off

Germany: the power of the President if there is no majority

My colleague James Sloam writes here about the likely outcomes of the German election.

The most likely outcome is still a majority for CDU-CSU + FDP. If they don't have enough seats, then the next most likely outcomes are either a grand coalition of CDU-CSU + SPD or a coalition of CDU-CSU plus the Greens. But what happens if the CDU-CSU is unable to come to an agreement with either the SPD or the Greens? In 2005, this is what happened following the elections. After some time in which the SPD and CDU did not speak to each other, a Grand Coalition was subsequently formed.

For further guidance, we need to look at Article 63 of the German Basic Law or Constitution. First, the Federal President nominates a Chancellor. If the Bundestag rejects this nomination, which it has never done, then the Bundestag moves to elect a Chancellor of its own volition within 14 days and by an absolute majority. In 1949, this condition was inserted in case the President abused his powers of appointment in the same way as President Hindenburg back in 1925-34. In practice, the President has since 1949 always nominated the clear leader of the winning coalition. In 2005, Angela Merkel was eventually nominated with the consent of the SPD and was in any case the leader of the largest party. Article 63(4) tells us that if after 14 days an absolute majority in the Bundestag fails to elect a Chancellor, it will then proceed to elect a Chancellor by simple majority. If there is no absolute majority the President may decide either to accept that Chancellor or to dissolve the Bundestag for new elections.

In other words, if an election is inconclusive and nobody can find an overall majority in the Bundestag, the President has a significant - and never used - power to choose to go for new elections or indeed to veto a dissolution and to accept a government without an overall majority.

In 2005, it was probably the threat of using this power (rather than its actual use) that led to the Grand Coalition. The President may well have told Angela Merkel and Gerhard Schröder that he would not consent to a second dissolution.

 

 

Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 01:20PM by Registered CommenterDr Giacomo Benedetto | CommentsPost a Comment

Angela Merkel+: the 2013 German Federal Election and the Future of the European Union

By Dr James Sloam (co-director of the Centre for European Politics, Royal Holloway)

 

With the German federal election a little more than a week away, it seems that – barring a seismic shift in the opinion polls – Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) are destined for another four years in power. Whilst the name of the next Chancellor is already known, the big question is who Merkel’s coalition partner will be. And, in this respect the race is too close to call.

Will we have a continuation of the Christian Democrats’ (polling at 40%) alliance with the liberals of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) (polling at 6%)? It is likely that the two government parties will come close to a majority in the Bundestag, but the presence of the Party of the Left (die Linke) (polling at 8%) is likely to put the winning line at 47-48%. Will we see another Grand Coalition (as from 2005 to 2009) with the Christian Democrats’ main rivals, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) (polling at 25%)? The two parties would have a clear majority (and this is the favoured coalition for most Germans), but many Social Democrats would be loath to join Merkel in Government given their loss of support under the last Grand Coalition. Or will we see a new Christian Democrat-Green government (Greens polling at 13%)? Although the latter has been dismissed by leaders from both parties, the Government’s u-turn on nuclear power (after Fukushima) has turned this into a real possibility.

What we can say is that 2013 will not go down as one of the more exciting campaigns in recent German political history. Merkel is not a great campaigner, and has struggled to fill halls and stadia for her rallies, but she enjoys the trust and respect of the German electorate. They strongly approve of her handling of the financial crisis and the Eurozone crisis, and see her as a safe pair of hands amid stormy waters. The gaffe-prone SPD candidate, Peer Steinbrück, has not presented himself as a viable alternative, and his efforts to create clear red water between himself and Merkel have not been credible (Merkel and Steinbrück worked well together as Chancellor and Finance Minister during the darkest days of the financial crisis).

A more interesting question is to what extent the federal elections might have an impact on Germany European policy. Whilst Merkel’s stewardship of the EU during the Eurozone crisis has played well at home, it is highly questionable whether her government’s strict adherence to fiscal austerity for debtor countries (i.e. Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain) has benefitted Europe. The fiscal straightjacket of the bailout agreements has stunted growth in these countries for years to come. And Germany, the leading exporter in Europe by a country mile, will also suffer – as a consequence – from reduced trade.

With regard to the European Union, the choice of coalition partner might prove telling. If we see another Grand Coalition, Merkel might have the courage (put differently, the SPD could share the blame!) and the majority to offer more generous terms to debtor countries and push forward with initiatives such as the stalled Banking Union. The less likely possibility of a Christian Democrat-Green coalition would push even further in this direction (the Greens are widely regarded at the most pro-European of Germany’s mainstream parties). On a slightly darker note, the main parties will closely watch the performance of the new Eurosceptic party, Alternative für Deutschland. Although it is unlikely to pass the 5% threshold necessary to enter the Bundestag (polling at 3.5%), a strong performance could set back German plans for deeper European integration. For David Cameron’s UK Conservative Party, this dark could have a silver lining. A good result for the German Eurosceptics could make the rolling back or renegotiation of some EU powers more appealing to a new German government.

Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 12:33PM by Registered CommenterDr James Sloam | CommentsPost a Comment