The next two months will be decisive for the future of the Juncker plan which aims at generating 315 billion euros of investments in the European Union in the next 3 years, especially for its main tool, the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI). Last week the European Parliament (EP), the Council and the Commission still seemed to be heading in directions that would have eventually led them to a violent confrontation. But on Monday 30 March, vice-president Katainen (Investment) and one of the EP rapporteur, Udo Bullmann (S&D, DE), both asserted that a compromise was possible before summer. Should these comments only be seen as a display of goodwill while deep divergences remain? Not necessarily!
Clearly, no one denies the need to boost investment in Europe. Doubts however remain on the proposed medicine at a time when bullish stock markets show that some investors do not hesitate to take risks, at least in the short run.
The Council, who met up on 10 March, focused its comments on EFSI governance. Ministers strengthened the role of national development banks even though it could lead to national project lists and favour the most affluent countries.
The parliamentary committees will vote on 20 April. The rapporteurs’ draft report is critical on many issues but the most controversial EP proposal is to finance EFSI through the annual budget instead of cuts to the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) and to the R&D programme, Horizon 2020. For the Commission, this option is unacceptable. President Juncker even threatened, in front of the S&D group, to withdraw his proposal if the Parliament maintained its position. Members of Parliament from several political groups (EPP, S&D and ALDE) proposed alternatives to preserve CEF and H2020 and submitted more than 2000 amendments. Whether, and if so how, the political groups will capitalise on these individual initiatives remains to be seen.
Additionally, the European Court of Auditors published on 17 March a severe opinion on many aspects of EFSI: governance, reporting, transparency, risk for the EU budget, lack of justification for the choices made, etc.
Finally, positions are also getting more radical among researchers who will be directly impacted by H2020 cuts. The League of European Research Universities (LERU) published a quite aggressive “opinion” in which a resort to legal action on the basis of the opinion of the Court of Auditors is mentioned if the proposal was to remain as it is.
In this context, Mr. Katainen’s declaration that “there is no room for finding any major alternative source of funding” can be paradoxically understood as a modest but real opening because it is the first time that the existence of such an alternative source of funding, although a “minor” one, is recognised. The stage is now set for a vivid debate in which dividing lines are likely to appear at the heart of both the Council and the Parliament.