Joe Biden and the EU budget saga

18 November 2020

While reading the news I found a quote by newly (or nearly ?) elected President Joe Biden that goes: “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value”. It made me think of what a saga the next EU budget process and recovery plan’s adoption process has become. First the Brexit saga, now the money.

So, if we follow Biden and value the EU on its current budget proposal, 6 weeks away from when it should officially start, it would get a big zero because people need it and we should value people.

We were ready to celebrate a few months ago when member states found an agreement on an unprecedented budgetary package to help the EU not only to deliver on its policies, but also to recover and build back better. We had to cork the champagne temporarily while the European Parliament negotiated for an extra €16 billion for programmes like Horizon Europe and Erasmus that will help cities. Fine with that. Then, this week, more drama: Hungary and Poland are vetoing the process. To quote Joe Biden again, “when you’re appealing to people’s fears and anxieties, you can make some gains” – and that is what these countries seem to be doing in their appeals on the rule of law position towards their populations.

Now, without wanting to enter domestic politics across EU countries, this overall process is starting to annoy me. It annoys me even as someone who understands the mechanics of the EU and as a pro-European. But what about those people that have lost their job, have a business to manage, must deal with gaps in the health system, or who are planning green and digital investments, to create new employment, regenerate private and public spaces and so on? They are all looking to the EU to play its role in supporting them by setting a clear path forward. Meanwhile, they are being let down.

Cities need the EU to get its act together. Our cities have been hardest hit by this crisis, and cities are the place where all sorts of challenges come together. Where are the fundamental values of the EU? Now is the time for a demonstration of solidarity and unity. Otherwise, we will lay ourselves open to more populist rhetoric, which only weakens the EU.

So, what can we do? Let’s “keep the faith” (Biden again). I really hope a decent compromise can be found fast. We do not have the luxury of time to deal with competing national agendas. Cities need action. The Resilience and Recovery Facility text by the European Parliament recognises the role of cities in Europe’s recovery. We can only hope that national recovery plans will offer cities a seat at the table too.

This is a unique chance for Europe to imagine a new future, to rethink what our cities and our continent could look like through a totally different paradigm. Let’s not waste it!