a blocking minority

Those of you who come to this site regularly may be wondering what has happened. Where has he gone? Why has he stopped posting? Well, as I put it on Facebook, I have spent a lot of time and effort ‘resisting the slashers’ – sadly, without much success. On 1 December last year the Lisbon Treaty was at last implemented. Although it would create fresh responsibilities and tasks for all of the EU institutions, it was agreed by the budgetary authority that, in the context of their initial draft 2010 budgets, none of them should seek to budget for these new tasks and responsibilities, and this for the perfectly good reason that it would be of supreme political clumsiness to seem to be second-guessing how the Irish people would vote in their referendum on the Treaty. Unfortunately, just as the Treaty was finally ratified and implemented, the economic and financial crisis started to bite, and some member states started to engage in fiscal retrenchment and cut back their public sectors. As I have written in previous posts, it was not an ideal moment to be asking for fresh human and financial resources. At the same time, though, should and could the institutions simply forget their new obligations under Lisbon? The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions took their lead from the European Parliament, which also happens to be a twin arm of the budgetary authority. Having debated the pros and cons, the EP decided to table an amending budget for 2010. There ensued passionate and agonised debates within the EU’s two consultative bodies but, in the end, they felt they had little option but to follow suit. In the first place, they demonstrably had new tasks and roles. In the second place, what would it say for their commitment to the Treaty’s new provisions in areas such as subsidiarity and participatory democracy? So the two committees put in rigorously and conservatively costed bids for amending budgets for 2010 that were intentionally modest – the minimum necessary, was the spirit (rather than the maximum possible). They were comforted in their decisions when the EP’s bid was approved in its entirety. The member states, it seemed, had accepted the argument that, had the Lisbon Treaty already been ratified in the first half of 2009, the EP (like the two Committees) would have budgeted accordingly.

Then came the warning signals from the Council. Some delegations (understandably, in the light of domestic developments) considered our bids irresponsible and provocative. More information and detail was required. There was delay, and then more delay, and then ‘compromise proposals’ were tabled; we should get half of what we had requested, then a third; and each time our bids were anyway proportionately revised downwards because less of the year was left and each time it proved impossible to muster the necessary qualified majority in the Council. Crunch time came this week, yesterday (Wednesday), with a scheduled meeting between the Council and the Parliament and the Commission – a so-called ‘trilogue’ – to discuss the 2011 budget drafting exercise and other outstanding issues. Alas, in the continued absence of a qualified majority in the Council, no discussion of the 2010 amending budgets was possible and it is difficult to see how any such discussion might be revived. At the same time, early warnings are that we will get little, if any, increase in our 2011 budgets.

As a consequence of this situation I, together with various EESC members and officials, spent a lot of the first half of the week lobbying in various ways, including visiting ministers and commissioners, rallying our forces and trying to make sure that the member states had fully understood the situation and what lay behind our figures. It looks as though we have failed (for the time being, at least), but it was worth the effort, I believe. It is in any case, in this post-Lisbon world, an effort we are going to have to make every year, for under the new budgetary procedure we are going to have constantly to fight much harder for any fresh resources.

In the meantime, and without wishing to sound plaintive, we seem to be in one of those situations or processes where, although each and every actor is a rational one and each has behaved in a rational fashion, the result itself is far from rational or, at the least, far from optimal.