Ladies and gentlemen,
It’s a great pleasure to welcome you here today.
Let’s not kid ourselves. A conference on the Future of the EU Multiannual Financial Framework is unlikely to keep many EU citizens up at night. If anything were to, it’s more likely to be the stagnant negotiations with Greece.
But if we’re here today to discuss the topic, it’s not because we find convoluted bureaucratic terms particularly exciting, but because we want to discuss the substance behind the term, namely the political priorities that we want to lay out for the future of our joint European project. And that certainly isn’t a question of details in footnotes. The EU budget is not a technical but a political topic, for it poses crucial questions.
How long can we remain credible when we run structurally completely underfunded budgets?
How much money are we willing to allocate to European foreign policy?
And to promoting research for the future?
What about boosting our economic competitiveness?
How much do we want to spend on combating the causes of migration?
These are questions which need answers, and with which we set out our political priorities. In order to do so it’s important that, apart from concrete negotiations on tables of figures, we discuss European expenditure from a political perspective. And it’s important that we do so early and well in advance of traditional debates on distribution. The agreed revision of the financial framework offers us a chance to do so, and we should take up this opportunity.
Every seven years, the financial framework is fixed for a further seven years by the heads of state and government. I’m under no illusions about how much we can amend the MFF in the middle of a financial period. Nevertheless, we have to ask ourselves what undeniable changes have arisen since the financial framework was finalised in spring 2013. If we want to use the review procedure, we’ll have to prioritise and concentrate on these necessary changes.
As Foreign Minister I see one particular field which urgently requires action:
From a foreign policy point of view, you can no longer compare the world of 2015 with the world as it was in 2013. No only has a raft of crises arisen but they have advanced a lot closer to home. We Europeans cannot expect others to deal with problems in our neighbourhood. That is why in the Weimar Triangle we’ve launched a review of EU neighbourhood policy. The same goes for European Security and Defence Policy. In the next few weeks, the European Council will kick-off the overhaul of Europe’s security strategy.
I wouldn’t like to pre‑empt the outcome of either process. However, in light of the dramatically different foreign policy situation, it will be impossible for us to declare adjustments to the funding of joint foreign policy a taboo subject.
In the existing financial framework only 6% of all EU expenditure goes to EU foreign policy action. A mere 0.3% of EU expenditure is earmarked for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. That framework doesn’t leave much leeway. In the past we’ve repeatedly been confronted with bottlenecks, meaning with our common foreign policy, we were only able to react slowly to events – or we were unable to respond all together. We also continue to face severe funding problems in implementing politically desired measures such as election observation or CSDP missions.
At the same time the citizens of Europe quite rightly have very high expectations of the EU. Surveys show that people are mostly calling for 'more Europe' in the field in which Europe is particularly poorly funded: in the area of security and foreign policy.
Thus we should review the spheres in which our financial provision is still sufficient in the face of current challenges and in doing so we should talk about the amount of funding as well as its flexibility.
Reviewing the financial framework also gives us the chance to make progress in a second important field: making spending more effective. We should do so not only because every public body which spends money is, for good reason, critically observed. We should also do so because the character of the EU budget has changed: from allocating the lion’s share of funding to the Common Agricultural Policy in the early years of the community to funding EU expansion and bringing the new member states into line with other countries of the EU. In this regard our common policy has achieved a great deal, especially for example if I look East to our neighbours in Poland. Today, EU expenditure is judged far more by how, on the one hand, we can ensure Europe’s competitiveness and invest in the future, and on the other, how we can prevent social division and the opening up of new economic rifts. These new demands on the budget mean that we need to improve the effectiveness of our spending and to adapt the budget to better dovetail with the new economic governance instruments, especially within the eurozone.
I know that we see eye to eye on many issues. In this legislative term you have the difficult task of reconciling political expectations with the financial room for manoeuvre.
I hope that this conference will help you to do so and that together we can get the ball rolling on joint reflection. The conference aims to be the first step on a journey which we want to undertake together with you: experts from Germany and many other European countries.
Further events have already been planned, for example an Weimar Triangle ambassador conference in Brussels and a workshop with our partners from the Netherlands.
We look forward to these exchanges of views.
But right now, Vice President, we are looking forward to hearing your thoughts on these topics.