MEPs attack wealthy states in regional aid spending row

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Series Details Vol 7, No.13, 29.3.01, p8
Publication Date 29/03/2001
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Date: 29/03/01

MEPS have accused rich EU member states of trying to save billions in regional development spending over the next five years in a row over changes to the Union budget.

Spanish Socialist MEP, Joan Colom i Naval, who is drafting the Parliament's position on changes to the 2000-2006 budget, expressed concern over a deal agreed by member states and the Commission to frontload €6.2 billion in unspent funds from this year.

He said it could allow governments to avoid meeting their commitments on regional aid spending made at the Berlin summit in March 1999.

"There is not the willingness to fulfil the political commitments of Berlin but to make savings," he said, arguing that this particularly applied to wealthier countries.

The Council of Ministers has reached a deal with the Commission because poorer countries were better at implementing social funds spending plans, Colom claimed.

The Parliament must resolve its dispute with the member states and the Commission urgently, because if all parties fail to approve budget changes by a 1 May deadline the money will be lost from the regional aid budget.

To avoid unspent funds going back to member states, Colom is calling for €6.2 billion which was supposed to be allocated for regional aid in 2000 to be backloaded over the next five budget years to give governments more time to draw up projects. He argues that his changes are designed to deal with potential problems if last year's low implementation rate is repeated in the future.

"If we follow this in 2002 with very low execution, this is the last year we can rebudgetise and this money will be lost," he argued.

But budget officials from Union states dispute the MEP's claim that the planned funds would not be spent, arguing that their agreement was based on the EU executive's assessment of member states' ability to carry out proposed projects.

A finance ministry official said: "The Commission is the expert on this. It has all the information from the member states and we just don't think that the MEPs' know better than the Commission does."

As part of the 1999 deal in Berlin, leaders agreed that if governments failed to allocate all regional aid spending for 2000 the money could be carried over provided a deal was struck by 1 May this year.

MEPs have accused rich EU Member States of trying to save billions in regional development spending over the next five years in a row over changes to the Union budget.

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