European program of assistance to the poor: Should the Commission be criticized?

, by Fabien Cazenave, Translated by Jill Haapaniemi

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

European program of assistance to the poor: Should the Commission be criticized?

There has recently been some very surprising news: The European Commission proposed a drastic reduction of the amount funds allocated to the European program of aid to the poor (PEAD), funded by the Common Agricultural Policy. The budget for this aide will decrease from 500 million to 113 million Euros. Everyone seems in agreement in on criticizing the decision. Do the MEPs need to censure the European Commission?

A policy decision in response to a court ruling

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has just settled a conflict between Germany and Sweden on one side and the Commission on the other (supported by France, Italy, Spain, and Poland). Berlin criticized PEAD for being financed by the Common Agricultural Policy at the European level.

The German government considers this to falls within the action of the member states. Translation? We are fed up in Germany paying for other states. And the ECJ agrees with their reasoning, asking the European Commission to stop funding the program on a basis that does not question the distribution of money before the decision (see the link T-576/08).

Consequently, the European Commission announces a drastic reduction in the allocation of funds to PEAD by passing the new allotment to go from 500 to 113 million Euros in 2012. In other words, les Restos du Coeur, food banks and all other organizations of the same kind in Europe will choke (see the interview of the director of networks of the French food banks on Euractiv.fr).

The political and nonprofit world denounce this decision in unison

One of the first to react was MEP Rachid Dati, with a title of her press release being “When the Commission wants to, it can… even discourage citizens from believing in Europe!” . Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Karima Delli of the Green Party “condemn this absurd decision of the European Commission, which has allowed to let the situation deteriorate because of its lack of political ambition.” "If the regulation is inconsistent with the treaty, it must propose a new one quickly,” cries the head of the delegation ecologist. Socialist Estelle Grelier criticizes the decision that has been adopted by the Commission, as it “failed to appeal the court ruling.”

From ALDE, Jean-Luc Bennahmias rants “of course, the surplus of our Common Agricultural Policy which supports this funding no longer exists. But when you are up against a wall, you find there is another way and at any moment overnight walk the associations who are scrambling each day to make the everyday bearable."

On the side of the French government, Bruno Le Maire and Laurent Wauquiez demand “the Commission strengthen PEAD for the future” because "France stays very committed” to this program, “a tangible sign of the solidarity of the Union with its citizens.” For Philipp Courard, Belgian Secretary of State for Social Integration and the Fight against poverty, “this decision of the European Commission, if it is left with no alternative, is outrageous and completely unfathomable, seeing as Europe in 2010 was ‘the European Year for the fight against poverty and its clear commitments to reducing poverty by 2020.’” We see the political and nonprofit world screaming in unison against this decision that leaves the poor out in the cold so suddenly.

What should be done to make the Commission to find a solution?

The States play a double role in the matter: they justly criticize the decision of the European Commission, but in recent weeks, they have done everything to prevent the European Union budget form increasing. Ultimately, the President of the Commission Barroso has found himself bound, hand and foot, with the decision of the ECJ. Because where do you find 400 million Euros in a disappearing budget if the States do not increase the EU budget itself?

So long as the Commission doesn’t receive anything from the budget through its own resources, it will always be dependent on the good will of its member states when major unexpected events happen.

However, ping-pong can go back and forth for a long time. The states use the pretext of austerity due to the crisis to not give any more to Europe, yet 400 million divided by 27 States= less than 15 million Euros from each state…

The Commission explains on its side that it doesn’t have the necessary means to find 400 million because it has no right to take the money from the budget made for European action since it acts as a social policy and thus falls within the jurisdiction of the states.

There are the MEPs who may require member states and the European Commission to make moves. They can in effect force a hand upon their backs…by threatening to censure the European Commission of Mr. Barroso. Article 17 of the Treaty of Lisbon states that the Commission is collectively responsible, so it cannot act against a commissioner in particular.

The deputies then have an opportunity to recall that the European Commission cannot make these decisions against the European Parliament, for that would be an image of the national government going against its parliament. This is a serious political act but the announcement of the division by five of the budget for PEAD deserves to see representatives of the citizens within European institutions put their foot in their mouth.

Most newspapers have taken the title of the news agency saying “Europe is putting the poor on a diet” (see an example on MyEurop). Will we have a release tomorrow with the heading “the MEPs defend the poor of Europe”?

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