EU Budget Prevails Over Transparency Challenge

(CN) – The European Court of Justice stamped its seal of approval Tuesday on a 2017 general budget that the European Parliament adopted in Brussels, rather than in Strasbourg as protocol dictates.

France brought the challenge together with Luxembourg, asking the Court of Justice to annul the budget because it said protocol requires Parliament to exercise its budgetary powers in Strasbourg during what are known as plenary part-sessions.

Here Parliament failed to adopted the 2017 budget at the sessions in Strasbourg but followed through in at an additional plenary part-session that was held in Brussels on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2016.

On Tuesday, however, the Court of Justice rejected France’s claim that protocol required the president of Parliament to wait until the next ordinary part-session in Strasbourg to declare definitive adoption of the 2017 budget.

“Although the Parliament is obliged to exercise its budgetary powers in a period of ordinary plenary part-session in Strasbourg, that obligation … does not prevent the annual budget from being debated and voted on during an additional plenary part-session in Brussels, if that is called for by essential requirements relating to the proper conduct of the budgetary procedure,” a press release from the court states. “It is the Parliament’s responsibility to carry out the above-mentioned reconciliation, in respect of which it has a discretion resulting from the essential requirements relating to the proper conduct of the budgetary procedure.”

Released in Luxembourg, the ruling is not available in English. It concludes with the finding that Parliament made no errors of assessment in exercising some of its budgetary powers.

Earlier in the ruling, the court explained that the protocol is meant to guarantee a public debate and vote, in plenary sitting. While the court emphasized that such procedures are “of particular importance for the transparency and democratic legitimacy of actions of the EU based on its annual budget,” it also noted that these objectives “cannot … be secured solely by a first reading of the draft budget in the framework of the budgetary procedure, when the Parliament adopts amendments to the draft.”

“The Parliament is obliged to observe the deadlines and time limits that the treaty imposes on it for the exercise of its budgetary powers in plenary session so as to ensure that the annual budget of the EU is adopted by the end of the year preceding the financial year in question,” the press release continues. “Thus, if the Parliament fails to take a decision at second reading upon the joint text on the draft annual budget within a 14-day period and if the European Council rejects the joint text within that period, the budgetary procedure has to be resumed in its entirety and the Parliament cannot decide alone on the adoption of the budget. If the Parliament fails to take such a decision, that also allows the Council to act alone and adopt the joint text on the draft annual budget. It is, however, of particular importance for the transparency and democratic legitimacy of the EU’s actions that the Parliament takes a decision on the joint text in plenary session.”

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