An EU budget for the fifties not the future

This was the reaction of Swedish EU affairs minister Birgitta Ohlsson to the publication yesterday of the Cypriot Presidency’s revised proposal for the next EU multi-annual financial framework (MFF) covering the period 2014-2020. This is because it proposed big cuts in research and cross-border infrastructure while largely protecting the CAP budget in line with the Commission’s proposal.

The Commission has proposed a trillion euro budget (actually €1,091,551 million for EU-28 including off budget items) for the seven-year period which, depending on how the comparison is made, is seen as representing a 5% real increase in the resources available to the EU. The European Parliament, never shy about spending other people’s money, considers this a minimum amount and would prefer a higher increase. In the other arm of the budget authority, the Council of Ministers, opinions are split. The net recipients, grouped in the ‘Friends of Cohesion’ group, support the Commission proposal. The net payers, which form the ‘Friends of Better Spending’ group, want to rein back the Commission proposal to a real freeze in resources or even more. But there are differences within this group over whether the cuts should fall on the CAP or cohesion budgets (both of which are roughly 40% of the total) or on the remaining headings which account for just 20%. Not surprisingly, both the Commission and the Parliament’s Budget Committee reacted caustically to the Presidency proposal yesterday.

The Cyprus Presidency proposal explicitly sets out the implications of how a reduction in €50 billion might be made, while recognising that in the negotiating endgame further cuts will be required. The following graphic shows how it proposes the cuts should be made (all changes relative to the Commission’s revised MFF proposal in July 2012). Further details on the makeup of these figures can be found in this post.

The protection of farm spending in the EU budget emerges clearly from these figures. While in the short-run the Irish authorities will be pleased with this outcome (even if they will not state this in public, we are negotiating after all), it is worth asking whether our longer-term interests would not be better served by a budget for Europe rather than a budget for farmers.

Prospects for the agricultural sector

Those interested in the fortunes of the real economy, and specifically the agricultural sector, might find my assessment of the prospects for farming in the current issue of eolas of interest. The editorial tagline does a good job of summarising its gist.

The agricultural sector is recovering. However, dependence on direct payments, climate change [targets] and ageing farmers are potential problems.

By the way, there are many other interesting articles in the magazine, its well worth a read.

Prospects for the agri-food sector in 2012

Teagasc economists have just released their Situation and Outlook Report for the Irish primary agriculture sector for 2012 (proceedings here and presentations here). In 2011 there was a significant and welcome recovery in farm incomes (up 33% over 2010) although this was entirely due to higher prices and higher subsidies – the volume of agricultural output (at basic prices) remained unchanged despite slightly higher volume consumption of intermediate inputs.

The Teagasc view is that the value of gross output in agriculture will fall back slightly in 2012, due to a combination of lower production in some sectors and lower prices in others. There will be some savings on input costs, but lower subsidies in 2012 (due to a carryover of payments in 2011) means that operating surplus in agriculture is expected to fall by 12%.

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Commission publishes MFF budget proposals

The Commission’s proposals for the EU budget’s next Financial Framework (MFF) for 2014-2020 can be found here. Judged against the parameters I proposed to evaluate the MFF proposal from an Irish perspective, then the proposal is as good as we could have hoped for. RTE reported that “The Government has given a cautious response to the European Commission’s proposed 2014 to 2020 budget” which, given that this is the start of a difficult set of negotiations, is about as close to saying “we are delighted” as you are likely to get.
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Commission proposals for the next EU budget Multi-annual Financial Framework to be published this week

On Wednesday (June 29th) the Commission is scheduled to reveal its proposals for the next Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) which will set out the scale and composition as well as the proposed financing of the EU budget over the period to 2020. However, some reports suggest that Commission President Barroso is putting aside two days for the Commission College to agree the proposal so it may be later in the week before it sees the light of day. This is an important issue for Ireland, and this post discusses the issues to watch for in the Commission’s proposal.

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Rising food prices and farm incomes

Aideen Sheehan has a piece on food prices in today’s Irish Independent reporting that prices of some popular branded foods have risen by 7% over the past 8 months compared to prices in a survey conducted by the National Consumer Agency last summer. However, the real story in recent months has been the remarkable stability in food prices despite soaring commodity prices on world markets.

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More on sectoral financial balances

David McWilliams discusses the Irish version of the ‘Gavyn Davies’ sector financial balances graph in the Irish Independent today. He makes two points. The first is to highlight the restoration of the foreign sector balance in recent years, which he interprets as meaning that, absent the banking crisis, the government would not have needed to seek EU/IMF funding given the availability of sufficient domestic savings to fund the government deficit.

His second point is that the chart shows that austerity will not work because, if the private sector keeps saving, then either the government deficit remains high (as a result of a further contraction of the economy) or there is a build up in the current account surplus on the balance of payments, which he also sees as undesirable because it means that “we will export capital to the rest of the world for them to use, while projects in Ireland are starved of capital”.

While the first point may be true in the sense that the state would not have faced the downgrade on its sovereign debt in the absence of the banking crisis, I think the second conclusion is wrong. Continue reading “More on sectoral financial balances”