By Chiara Russo
A look to the (not so far) future
While the UK has reported the highest number of deaths due Covid-19, countries like Italy are entering into “phase 2”, relaxing strict measures a little and allowing people, not only to meet their nearest relatives and friends, but to take their beloved espresso directly at a café. However, the common denominator still remains fear – both for the present and future, given the unknown consequences of such a relaxation of rules.
At the EU level, on 4 May the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgets (BUDG) voted in favour of requesting the Commission to submit a proposal for a contingency plan for the MFF 2021-2027. MEPs have expressed real concerns regarding all programs financed by the EU budget, and the further risk to European citizens by the end of the year as the 2020 financial year comes to an end.
European Parliament: the May plenary of 15 May
During its recent plenary, the EP adopted a resolution by 505 votes regarding the future of the EU-budget after the end of the current financial year. The focus remains – as stated at the beginning of the month by the BUDG committee – on the financial burden that citizens are facing and how EU policies can best remedy them. In fact, plans for the MFF will have to include a recovery plan that takes into consideration “social and economic inequalities and the needs of those hardest hit by the crisis“.
This new recovery fund will amount to 2 trillion euros according to the EP. The focus of such a fund should, it claims, be on SMEs, prioritizing everything falling inside the Green Deal and the digital agenda of the Union. The EP press release of the recent plenary also mentions the “creation of a new standalone European health program”, something which may be further developed in future.
The EP and budgetary control
MEPs suggest that this new fund should be made accessible mainly through grants, and urges the Commission not to use “misleading figures”. Additionally, MEPs have also commented on the need to increase the MFF, threatening to use their veto powers if these demands are not met. But what is the EP’s role regarding the EU budget? And how is it able to apply political pressure on the Commission?
The European Parliament is, together with the European Court of Auditors, the main actor responsible for ensuring the sound financial management of the EU budget. This means that, even if each institution has its own internal auditor, there’s both an external control carried out by the ECA and a political control undertaken by the EP. Political control is exerted by the Committee on Budgetary Control (BUDG) and the main activity through which the EP exerts political pressure is the discharge procedure.
Through this procedure, the Parliament “grants discharge to the Commission in respect of the implementation of the budget for the year n-2”. This procedure also applies to the other EU institutions, including EU agencies. These agencies, executive non-elected bodies supported by EU budget, are also in need of the political control of the EP for their activity to be legitimized – given today’s perceived lack of democratic legitimacy at the EU level .
If the EP has doubts over the performance of the Commission’s policies and financial management, based on evidence in the reports submitted to it periodically by the ECA, it can “instruct the Commission to take corrective measures” and postpone the discharge, the latter being a real political threat towards the Union executive .
 Bellamy, R. & Kröger, S. (2013) ‘Representation Deficits and Surpluses in EU Policy-making’, Journal of European Integration, 35(5), pp. 477-497.
 In 1998 the EP postponed its discharge and asked the Commission to answer questions regarding accusations of mismanagement and fraud. Dissatisfied with the Commission’s efforts, the EP voted against the granting of the discharge, which led to the resignation of the Commission in 1999. (Nugent, N. (2017) The Government and Politics of the European Union (8th ed.) Palgrave Macmillan, p. 253).