- Date 16 November 2016
Politico: Will we have an EU-budget for 2017 Thursday, 17 th of November?
Jens Spahn: There are good chances that we will be able to reach an agreement on the 2017 budget faster than in the past. The European Parliament, the Commission and the Council all broadly agree. Unfortunately, the European Parliament made its approval to the budget dependent on the conclusion of the mid-term review of the Multiannual Financial Framework. That reduces the prospects of successful negotiations. Moreover, these are two separate procedures. We support the Council position. It was passed unanimously and it sets the right priorities: increased funding for current challenges, such as migration, refugees, internal and external security.
Politico: Where do you see a need to reform the Multiannual Financial Framework, three years after it came into force?
Jens Spahn: Last year mainly taught us we need flexibility. At a time when many refugees and migrants fled to Europe, we found it very difficult to quickly free up resources. We’ve always had a seven-year plan that tie up too many funds without knowing what will happen in this period. This should serve as a lesson – not only for the 2017 budget but in general when we design the EU Multiannual Financial Framework. We should leave more room to be able to react to unexpected events.
Furthermore, too often member countries use EU structural funds to set national priorities. And rarely do we see financed projects that have genuine added European value. At the same time, the Commission issues “country-specific recommendations” every year to indicate what each country should reform and change.
Politico: “Country-specific recommendations” haven’t exactly been a success story: Of 528 recommendations in 2014, only seven were completely implemented the following year.
Jens Spahn: For sure, not enough is done when it comes to implementation – and Germany is no exception. It is a pity – also because of the effort that it takes to draft the recommendations. Hundreds of civil servants in the Commission and in national ministries prepare thick bills that are then reviewed by the Council and, all too often, just get filed afterward.
Therefore we need stronger incentives for member states to implement these proposals. Part of the structural funds should be made conditional on implementation of the reform recommendations by the individual member state. For example, if reform of the energy sector or expansion of broadband coverage was recommended to a country, structural funds could be used to achieve these objectives.
Politico: But is the EU allowed to do that, given that national parliaments have budget sovereignty?
Jens Spahn: Of course, it remains true that national parliaments decide on national budgets. But if a country claims access to an EU-fund, then at least part of it – and I would say for the most part – should be linked to the county-specific recommendations. When a country wants to get support from the EU, it should accept the implementation of these recommendations. In some countries, 80 or 90 percent of all public investment is co-financed by the EU. It is in our common interest that this public investment is utilized to strengthen economic growth.
Politico: The European Parliament itself has made suggestions to reform the MFF in the past month. What do you think about that?
Jens Spahn: There were a couple of suggestions concerning flexibility and restructuring that we could discuss individually.
Politico: Which ones?
Jens Spahn: I don’t want to lead negotiations with the parliament through POLITICO – but let me just say this much: There is one thing we certainly should not do, namely exceeding the upper limit of the budget, a limit that was established by mutual agreement. Anything else will be discussed.
Politico: The U.K. has decided to leave the EU. What role will the country, currently the second-largest net payer, play in the next MFF negotiations?
Jens Spahn: Of course, the U.K. will be represented within the institutions as long as it is still a member of the European Union. In regard to the Multiannual Framework, we consider implementing the next MFF in 2019, a year earlier than originally planned.
In the event that the Brexit negotiations will begin in spring 2017, the U.K. will leave the EU by mid-2019. In May of that year, a new European Parliament will be elected, and we will have a new EU Commission. It makes sense to negotiate beforehand where we’re headed.
Politico: What consequences will Brexit have for the EU budget?
Jens Spahn: The budget will shrink initially. If the EU shrinks, and there are fewer funds available, the EU budget needs to be shrunk accordingly. There certainly is no automatic mechanism that other countries fill in for one country that decides to leave. But we can certainly discuss whether, and to what extent, parts of the U.K. contributions will be replaced eventually, which has to be decided jointly by all members states, particularly by the net payers.
This new money, however, should not simply flow into pre-existing structures. Instead, we have to tie it to the question how we can do more in the area of migration policy, neighborhood policy, research and the fight on terrorism.
To simply increase agricultural funds or structural funds cannot be the right political response in the face of recent developments.
Politico: What would be a better response?
Jens Spahn: Personally, I strongly support the further build up of Frontex – not just when it comes to jurisdiction and its competences, but also in terms of funding for more personnel and better equipment. We will provide money in the 2017 budget for a pilot project on defense research. This is just the beginning. I am counting on the Commission to bring forward further proposals to pave the way for a defense union. Here we need more Europe. It’s perfectly fine that we, the European Union, act with self-confidence – but as long as we do not have the military capacities that would enable us to guarantee stability in our own neighborhood independently, it is much ado about nothing.
Politico: Has this become more important after last week’s presidential elections in the U.S.?
Jens Spahn: Well, you know, there are few EU countries capable of transferring troops to a deployment outside the EU without the help of the Americans. We should take care of our transatlantic partnership since it is needed on both sides of Atlantic.
Politico: According to Commission estimates, Italy will break EU rules on budget deficit and public debt reduction this year and next. What to do?
Jens Spahn: In general, we expect the Commission, as guardian of the treaties, to insist on compliance, while at the same time making use of flexibilities provided by the rules. Italy has been given much leeway, and it continues to be given much leeway, due to its special situation, and it’s the right thing to do. However, the Commission has to make sure the rules are being followed, not just by Italy, but by all member states.
Politico: Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker recently expressed understanding for Italy’s position.
Jens Spahn: It’s not about understanding, it’s about rules that we have given ourselves. Everyone who has an interest in the EU functioning in the medium and long run has to have an interest in observing those rules. It is not in the interest of any EU member that arbitrariness rule in place of the principles we agreed on in mutual trust.
An interview conducted by Janosch Delcker and published on November, 16th, 2016 by Politico.