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28/03/2012 The European Refugee Fund and the 2013 budget on the menu at the March plenary session

On Wednesday 28th and Thursday 29th of March, the Parliament met in Brussels for a short two-day plenary session. On the programme was the vote for a second reading of the European Refugee Fund for the period 2008-2013, but also the first reading of the budget for the 2013 fiscal period as well as the planned European Endowment for Democracy and the planned Corporate Governance Framework for European Companies.

The European Refugee Fund for the period 2008-2013

On May 18th 2010, the European Parliament voted (with 512 votes in favour) of creating a European Refugee Fund for the period 2008-2013 as part of the general programme “Solidarity and management of migration flows”. More specifically, the Parliament proposes establishing a list of priority refugees. This list would include:

  • Children and women who are under threat, particularly from psychological, physical or sexual violence or exploitation,

  • Unaccompanied minors for whom relocation is in their best interest,
  • People in need of serious medical help,
  • People who have been victims of violence and torture,
  • People who urgently require relocation for legal reasons and for their own protection.

Furthermore, Parliament proposes that Member States taking part in relocating refugees for the first time will receive higher financial aid. As such, the allowance of €4,000 per relocated person will be raised to €6,000 the first year of their participation and €5,000 the second year.

The provisional account of income and expenditure for the 2013 fiscal year

The double seat of the European Parliament (Brussels and Strasbourg) is in certain MEPs’ firing line and has been the subject of much debate for many years. Following publication of a report published by British MEP Edward McMillan-Scott in 2011 calling for removal of the Strasbourg seat, the pro-Strasbourg camp fought back in February 2012 by publishing their own study aiming to show that what is at stake is less to do with finance and the environment than it is to do with politics. 

The plenary session of March 28th and 29th will also present an opportunity to study the first reading of the provisional accounts of income and expenditure for the 2013 fiscal year. The budget for 2013 is €1.768 billion i.e. an increase of 2.96% on the previous year. Nevertheless, as part of the shared concerns about presenting realistic forecasts, the Parliament has stated that it is ready to agree to extra savings and to review the budget downwards to €1.759 billion i.e. an increase of 1.9% on the previous year.

Among the main proposals put forward by the European Parliament are limiting its places of work to one single headquarters for MEPs and civil servants. To further move towards reducing expenses for the year 2013, Parliament is also proposing limiting staff trips and not indexing personal allowances. The Parliament also wants to continue to reorganise translation and interpreting activities bringing substantial savings without having adverse effects on the needs of the institution. They have also limited MEPs’ non-legislative work. Finally, the Parliament called for an independent study of its budget for September 2012 to identify other lines where extra savings are possible.

The European Endowment for Democracy

The idea of creating a European Endowment for Democracy is still in the first reading stage. The aim here is to create a semi-autonomous entity that is not directly linked to European diplomacy or to the Commission and which is able to support democracy all over the world. This project was developed by Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Vice-President of the Commission along with Stefan Füle, Commissioner for Enlargement and the European Neighbourhood Policy.

The European Parliament welcomed the project and has come up with recommendations on how the endowment might function. MEPs want the fund to have a specific mandate and for the European neighbourhood to be prioritised. They also want it to play a synergistic and complementary role to the European institutions’ actions and they want it to be managed in a transparent way. Furthermore, the Parliament is insisting on the need for assurances that the Endowment will not encroach on the already limited finances of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights.

Corporate Governance Framework for European Companies 

With regard to the Corporate Governance Framework for European Companies, the Parliament wants to stress the importance of creating a more transparent, stable, reliable and responsible business sector with improved governance. More specifically, the report by Sebastian Valentin Bodu (EPP Romania) highlights the need for clear separation between the roles of chairperson of the board and managing director when company size permits, for making salaries public and even for increasing the frequency of board meetings.

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