The big EU budget debate, started by last month’s first proposal by the Commission for the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), going from 2021 to 2027, is now fully ongoing, with all phases of the EU, from Parliament to member states to the Commission, discussing how the future budget should look like, what should be financed by how much, where you get the money from, and, inevitably, what the future of the European Union itself will look like.
As I have already argued in other articles, the current ideas put forth by the Commission are rather frustrating, considering it is proposing an even bigger budget than previously – despite the UK, one of the biggest net payers, leaving the Union next year. However, it doesn’t get any better either if you look at what Brussels is planning to spend its money on in the future.
Take for instance the “Justice, Rights and Values Fund,” which the Commission has proposed in combination with the gigantic “European Social Fund Plus” (ESF+). The Values Fund should have a size of 947 million euros over the seven-year length of the MFF. As the Commission explains in a recent press release:
At a time where European societies are confronted with extremism, radicalism and divisions, it is more important than ever to promote, strengthen and defend justice, rights, and EU values. For instance, this programme will help fight inequalities and discrimination, better protect children, and improve judicial cooperation to better fight criminality and terrorism. The Fund will contribute to the further development of a European area of justice based on the rule of law, on mutual recognition and mutual trust. It will also enhance and support the key role of Non-Governmental Organisations and civil society in promoting, safeguarding and awareness raising for EU common values and ensuring people can enjoy their rights.
Questions abound: what does the European Commission see as “extremism” and “radicalism?" Is it talking about right-wing “populists” and anyone else who is opposed to the status quo? Or political correct social just warriors who are also on the ascend in Europe? Or both?
What does fighting inequality have to do with European values? Why is it the task of Brussels to “better protect children," rather than of the individual member states? When it comes to the rule of law, is the Commission actually trying to check all supposed interferences of the rule of law in Europe? Or does it simply try to attack the bad boys in Hungary and Poland, singling out those countries the Commission doesn’t like?
Since when should NGO’s and civil society groups be financed by taxpayer’s money? And is it linked to promote more European integration? Would Euroskeptical organizations also have a chance for funding? And above anything else: What are those “EU common values?” And why is it the Commission that should decide on it, rather than the people itself?
While it is true that this fund is not new and is not fundamentally increased in the MFF proposal in comparison to the 2014-2020 framework, it still shows two important points: for one, that it should not be the European Commission deciding what European values are and what not (and that it should not be the Commission promoting those in a top-down way). As the wording of the proposal already shows, simple slippery-slope arguments, able to mean anything in the world, would simply be money spent to further the Commission’s heavily pro-EU agenda.
Thus, and secondly, it also shows a great way to cut spending and by that instigating a smaller budget for the next MFF cycle. With programs like this values fund swallowing hundreds of millions of euros, it would be good to perhaps cut those programs altogether, and only spend money on projects that citizens across Europe deem as useful. After all, this is a goal the EU supposedly tries to follow anyway, focusing on projects that have clear and tangible benefits for the European people. Following through with this promise would go a long way – and lead to the abolishment of nonsensical, politically motivated programs such as a values fund.