EU diplomats set to push back on Parliament’s latest budget increase request

Discussions between the European Parliament and EU ambassadors could get heated over a request for funding.

The EU diplomats are set to discuss on Wednesday whether to rip up a budget pact with the Parliament, as countries aren’t amused about the assembly’s request for more cash. Ambassadors are gearing up to oppose its budget for 2023 — a historic move that would break with a decades-old pact between EU institutions not to block each other’s spending plans.

Last year, Parliament requested — and got — more than 100 new positions, despite criticism from EU countries, who saw the several million-euro bump to the institution’s budget (which already tops €2 billion) as unnecessary. Those who argue the Parliament needs more money “have been in this city too long and lost all sense of perspective,” one diplomat told POLITICO’s Brussels Playbook.

Another said Parliament promised the Council that last year’s rise would be the last budget increase they would ask for during the EU’s seven-year budget cycle.

Now, Parliament wants another 52 staff and 116 assistants, but countries’ patience is running out. According to a European Parliament resolution, each additional post costs an average of €107,500 a year (though the first diplomat quoted above put the real figure at €200,000 to €300,000). Even using Parliament’s lower figure, the 52 additional posts it is asking for would still amount to €5.6 million a year. It comes on top of automatic inflation adjustments to staff salaries.

The estimated automatic pay rise as of July is 8.6 percent — amounting to €16.7 million more in 2023 just for MEPs, without taking into account thousands of administration staff.

The Czech Council presidency has proposed a text that takes Parliament’s budget demands on board, but a group of at least 18 countries — including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Nordic and Central EU countries — are expected to push back on the text, warning that Parliament has asked for too much.

“Apparently the EP is immune to what happens in the real world,” a third diplomat told Brussels Playbook on Tuesday evening via text message. “The only reason the EP gets away with it is because in the 70s, the institutions made a gentleman’s agreement to not interfere in each other’s budgets. Member states have now reached the limits of their acceptance of that arrangement.”

The spat comes amid interwoven backroom deals within the Parliament to replace the departing secretary-general, a powerful administration position within the institution. Three political groups are pushing through a power-sharing arrangement that has left opponents accusing the Parliament’s leadership of cronyism.

“The way the EP uses these extra posts to play politics” undermines Parliament’s case, the third diplomat said. It’s one thing if the institution requests additional cash to shield MEPs from hacking attacks or to deal with Russian spying — it’s another if it’s seeking millions to create dubious new posts for one political group so that it backs another’s candidate for Parliament secretary-general.