By Martin Banks - 8th November 2012
I want to have a strong UK in the EU
Parliament's political group leaders have urged German chancellor Angela Merkel to be "more ambitious" on the EU's long-term budget.
In a meeting with Merkel on Wednesday, some senior deputies also told her to "focus less" on austerity measures.
The message comes ahead of a crunch summit in Brussels later this month where EU leaders will attempt to thrash out the EU's budget for the seven-year period after 2013.
In her eagerly-awaited address to the conference of presidents, or group leaders, Merkel expressed confidence that the budget for 2014 to 2020 could be decided at the two-day summit meeting.
Some, however, have expressed a more pessimistic view, saying that the reluctance of a number of countries, including the UK, to sanction a proposed five per cent rise increase in the EU budget means that the meeting could drag out over three days or more, or that the discussions could even spill into next year.
Germany, too, is thought to favour restraint in the post-2103 budget.
Britain is demanding a "real-terms" freeze in the budget, which would be set at 2011 levels increased only for inflation. British MPs voted last week to go further and demand a real-terms cut in spending by the EU.
The commission has suggested a five per cent increase in spending, and Germany, supported by Ireland, is in favour of spending one per cent of GDP, suggesting the budget would rise further as European economies grow.
In her meeting, Merkel told MEPs that the EU "must find the courage" to reform and integrate further.
Outlining her vision for a revamped EU, Merkel stressed the need to protect the euro, whereas political group leaders pressed her to be more ambitious, not least on the EU budget, and to focus less on austerity.
The two-hour discussion centred largely on the EU's economic troubles and the upcoming negotiations on the shape of the budget.
One of those present, S&D leader Hannes Swoboda said, "Europe is in one of the worst economic crises of all times. We must rebuild economic strength but this is only possible if we strengthen the welfare state so that it strengthens the competitiveness of our continent."
"The policies that Merkel advocates for countries such as Greece and Portugal – and for the whole of Europe – are threatening the social cohesion of Europe. The troikas at work in several of these countries should not be supported, as they are 'Destroykas', undermining the principles of the European social model.
"Germany must push for a swift solution to the banking crisis. This is indispensable for countries like Spain, Italy and Ireland. They need our support and solidarity. The European Stability Mechanism must be ready for action as soon as possible."
He told Merkel, "Where is your sense of solidarity in this crisis? To you, the crisis is a mere debt crisis that justifies those harsh austerity policies. We cannot tolerate the increasing unemployment and rising political extremism all over Europe which are the unacceptable consequences of these austerity policies.
"Germany could choose a pro-European path by supporting a lowering of the unjustifiably high interest rate spreads among the eurozone countries."
After the meeting, the Austrian MEP told this website, "It was good that Merkel came to parliament. This kind of initiative should take place more frequent in the future. But if we are to have Q & A sessions, there really should be a lot more answers to all the questions we asked."
Further reaction came from Greens co-leader Rebecca Harms who said, "Merkel showed no signs of abandoning her one-sided focus on austerity measures and continues to avoid any consideration of immediate measures that would alleviate the burden of interest payments on the crisis-hit countries and stimulate economic growth.
"This failure has the effect of further locking the crisis-hit countries into an ever-worsening economic vicious circle and ultimately threatens to break up the EU."
ECR leader Martin Callanan told Merkel that he sympathised with German taxpayers but warned that removing national economic sovereignty was a recipe for social unrest, which would take too long to implement to have meaningful effect on the current crisis.
He said, "I wish all EU nations had Germany's economic discipline and enterprising spirit because if they did we would be meeting here today under different circumstances.
"I have a great deal of sympathy for the German taxpayers because they were not told 15 years ago that this EMU project would require them to make such large sacrifices to sustain the single currency."
After her meeting in parliament, Merkel travelled to London to see UK prime minister David Cameron, who has branded the commission's budget demands as "ludicrous".
She dismissed calls by Ukip leader Nigel Farage for the UK to leave the EU, saying, "I want to have a strong UK in the EU."
Earlier, Farage told Merkel, "Wouldn't it be better chancellor if you went to Downing Street and said to Cameron, 'Look, this simply doesn't work anymore, it really is time for the UK to leave the EU'?
"He hasn't got the courage to say it himself but if you said it to him, it might have an impact."