Since the reform of the Treaties of the ‘70ies, the two arms of the budgetary authorities, the Council and the European Parliament, respected a Gentlemen’s agreement committing to accept each other budget, without amendments or modifications.
Since the ‘70ies Council and EP have always respected the ‘gentlemen agreement’, even if, in many cases, with regret. Some timid attempts of violation of the agreement came from the budgetary control committee of the EP, in the discharge procedure. The CONT committee questioned some of the Council expenditure; in some case EP plenary didn’t follow the recommendations of its committee, in others EP remarks, based on legally weak grounds, were disregarded by the Council, with neither political nor legal consequences.
The Lisbon Treaty introduced substantial changes into its ‘EU finances’ chapter. Those changes have altered the balance of powers between the two arms of the budgetary authority in favour of Council, as largely demonstrated by literature. The annual budget is adopted in co-decision while the Multiannual Financial framework needs EP consent, which allows the EP to play an active part in the negotiations and influence budgetary decisions. Yet EP remains the weaker partner of the two arms of the budgetary authority and has fewer ‘tools’ to impose its priorities during the procedure. This is far from the ‘equal footing’ expected with the co-decision on the annual budget introduced by the Lisbon Treaty.
The outcome of 2016 and 2017 budgets, indicates that not only EP has a reduced influence on the general budget but that it has also lost full control of its own budget. In fact Council imposed in the joint text, issue of the final conciliation, the modification of EP Budget. In 2016 EP Budget was approved with ‘a reduction of 9 posts’ and in 2017 ‘is approved with the exception that the increase of 76 posts for the political groups is fully offset by a compensatory decrease in the posts of the establishment plan in the Parliament’s administration, in the budgetary neutral manner’.
These two decisions call for some considerations:
It is clear that Council examines in detail EP Budget, while there is no evidence that EP does the same on Council budget. In 2016 budget Council imposed to the Conciliation committee the rejection of an increase of staff; in 2017 budget, Council went further not only asked for the reduction of 76 posts for the political groups but, de facto, imposed a further reduction of EP Administration of 76 posts.
The second consideration concerns the relations within the EP administration between its general secretariat and political groups. The decision of the Conciliation committee, accepted by the EP plenary, shows a shift of influence between the Administration and political groups. If we add to this, the increase in the last years of MEPs personal assistance – accredited and local assistants – it is legitimate to raise the question whether EP administration is evolving towards a model closer to the US Congress.
 i.e. The financing of respective building projects, the financing of operational activities of the Common Security Foreign policy, or staff increases, in particular for EP secretariat and political groups
 Resolution of 25 November 2015 on the joint text on the draft general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2016 approved by the Conciliation Committee under the budgetary procedure (14195/2015 – C8-0353/2015 – 2015/2132(BUD)) http://tinyurl.com/jgfhxjh
 Resolution of 1 December 2016 on the joint text on the draft general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2017 approved by the Conciliation Committee under the budgetary procedure (14635/2016 – C8-0470/2016 – 2016/2047(BUD) http://tinyurl.com/hth89up
Author : European pratictioner and researcher