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The novelties of the new EU budget

On Tuesday, after almost five days of negotiations, the 27 Member States of the EU reached an agreement on a €1,074 trillion Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), as well as a €750 billion Recovery Fund (Next Generation EU, or ‘NGEU’) for the period of 2021-2027.

The MFF sets out the EU budget for the coming seven years, setting funding priorities and dividing money amongst the different instruments. The long-term budget will, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, be accompanied by the so-called Recovery Fund called ‘Next Generation EU’. The NGEU will in part add additional funds to the existing European funding instruments, but also provide direct loans and grants to those Member States hardest hit by the pandemic.

Member States must leave behind their reservations on taxes and common debts

As was the case in previous EU budgets, Member States contribute a percentage of their gross national income (GNI) to the MFF. The funding of NGEU will, however, be unprecedented in the history of the EU, as it will be funded by the Union as a whole assuming loans on the capital markets. The EU-27 will borrow, through the European Commission, money from the capital markets. This means low interest rates, as all 27 Member States guarantee the loan.

Additionally, the loans will be repaid in part by raising the ‘own resources’ of the EU. These own resources will range from income from an EU-wide plastics tax to the introduction of a digital or financial transaction tax, a novelty in European tax policy where Member States traditionally firmly hold the reins.

Digital high on the agenda, or not?

The digital transition will remain one of the focal points of the EU budget. As such, important funding instruments such as Horizon Europe and Digital Europe are set to receive more funding compared to the current (2014-2020) budget, but less compared to the Commission proposal from May this year. The Digital Europe program, which finances the EU’s cyber defense and artificial intelligence development, will receive €6.80 billion during the coming seven years, a major increase compared to the millions it received in the previous financial framework. However, the proposed fund by the European Council is lower than the program was set to receive in the Commission proposal. Member States aim to streamline existing instruments into the InvestEU program. However, the new agreement downsizes the InvestEU budget to €8.40 billion compared to earlier proposals from the European Commission.

While the digital transition remains high on the agenda, the new EU budget does not draw exact parallels to the EU’s ambitiousness. While the current foreseen budget is higher compared to the current MFF, it lacks the firepower foreseen in the Commission proposal from May to push the EU to become a frontrunner in this area.

Sustainability as a main catalyst

The European Green Deal will also remain one of the main pillars of the EU budget in the European Council’s agreement. According to the new proposal, at least 30% of the total EU expenditure will have to contribute to climate objectives. The question remains exactly how the institutions will enforce the climate funding objective since the European Council remains very vague on the subject, a worry which is shared by the European Parliament.

In this context, the European Council invites the Commission to put forwards proposals for:

  • A carbon border adjustment mechanism, which will prevent the transfer of the production of goods to non-EU countries who happen to have less strict emission rules and ambitions;
  • A levy on non-recycled plastic waste, to be introduced in January 2021, of €0.80 per kilogram to discourage the generation of non-recycled plastic waste;
  • The revision of the Emission Trading System (ETS), to include a smaller amount of emission allowances in order to further boost carbon cuts and a possible extension to the maritime sectors.

Contrarily, the budget suffered several significant cuts during the negotiations in the sustainability policy area compared to the original proposal. For example, the flagship Just Transition Fund, intended to support carbon-intensive regions in the transition to a sustainable economy model, was heavily downsized from €40 billion to €17.5 billion.

Next steps

In order have the new EU budget operational by 1 January 2021, both the European Parliament as well as the national parliaments of the Member States need to approve the European Council’s proposal. However, both have voiced their skepticism towards the compromise that was reached. In the Member States, especially the national parliaments of the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Finland are expected to take a critical stance. Starting September, we expect to have more clarity on the shape of next year’s budget. In an extraordinary plenary session on 23 July, the European Parliament passed a resolution voicing criticism of the EU budget deal in its current form.

Want to know more about the EU budget negotiations, COVID-19, or other dossiers that might affect your business? Please contact Dr2 Consultants to see what we can do for you.

From Green Deal to Green Recovery

While the COVID-19 crisis has seen unprecedented challenges for the European transport sector, it also demonstrated the crucial role transport plays to ensure an uninterrupted supply of goods and services across Europe. Although the recovery of the sector is of vital importance of Europe’s economy, the recovery from the crisis also provides a momentum for the industry to act on the ambition of decarbonization and reaching climate neutrality by 2050. As put forward in the Commission’s EU Recovery Plan, the COVID-19 recovery phase should be used to pave the way towards not only a resilient and reliable transport sector, but also a sustainable one that is at the heart of the European Green Deal.

Following the publication of the Commission’s plan for recovery – dubbed as ‘Next Generation EU’ – as well as its updated Work Program for 2020, we have a clearer picture how the greening of the sector will unfold in the coming years. Dr2 Consultants’ transport team presents four take-aways for sustainable transport that will dominate the EU’s policy agenda in the years to come.

1. Alternative fuels, sustainable vehicles

Alternative fuels are a key priority for the Commission to cut emissions and create jobs. The EU’s executive arm aims to accelerate the production of low-emission fuels and the deployment of sustainable vehicles and vessels. In order to finance this, public investment should come with a commitment from the industry to invest in cleaner and more sustainable mobility.

The roadmaps for the further deployment of different fuel types are expected to be part of the highly-anticipated FuelEU proposals – to be published later this year – that will aim at increasing the use of alternative fuels in the maritime and aviation sector. Furthermore, in early 2021, the Commission will put forward the revision of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive, which will ensure the development of the necessary infrastructure across Member States to stimulate the uptake of sustainable fuels for all transport modes. 

2. The convergence of the energy and mobility systems

In order to decarbonize the transport sector, no stone is currently left unturned. Although electrification seems to be the most viable option on the short term, hydrogen is dubbed as the energy source for the future. The Commission’s flagship instrument for research and innovation, Horizon Europe, will be instrumental to kick-start the clean hydrogen revolution. The Commission has increased its budget in the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) with €13.5 billion, bringing Horizon Europe’s new budget to a total of €94.4 billion.

Later this month, the Commission will launch the Clean Hydrogen Alliance to stimulate the upscaling of clean hydrogen production in Europe. Also, the work of the European Battery Alliance will be accelerated. On 24 June, the Hydrogen Strategy is expected to be published.

3. Cities at the heart of sustainable mobility

With over 70% of EU citizens currently living in urban areas, achieving sustainability in cities across Europe is one of the main challenges of the recovery period. As a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis, noise pollution and air quality figures have dropped to an unprecedented level. Moreover, cities reinvented the way citizens move around, e.g. by giving priorities to pedestrians, introducing speed limits for vehicles and implementing new cycling lanes. The shift towards smart and more livable cities, therefore, places a big responsibility on the transport sector.

The Commission aims to increase the support for zero and low-emission mobility in cities by investing significantly in clean urban mobility. Funding calls in the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) and InvestEU programs will focus on clean fleet renewals by cities, the deployment of charging points and mobility-as-a-service solutions.

4. Taxation, anyone?

In the Next Generation EU, the Commission proposes to generate additional own resources by new taxes. Although the Commission still must draw up the specifics, it floated the option of extending the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) to the maritime sector, thereby raising up to €10 billion annually that will feed into the EU’s budget. In addition, the so-called carbon border adjustment mechanism is likely to be introduced, putting a carbon levy on non-EU imports.

Raising these kinds of ‘European’ taxes is unprecedented. As Member States have diverging views on this matter, it remains to be seen whether we can expect a breakthrough on these new own resources any time soon.

Next steps

The Commission aims to have the new MFF and recovery fund operational by 1 January 2021. EU leaders are expected to start the negotiations on the budget proposal during the European Council Summit on 19 June and will have multiple rounds of very difficult talks until a compromise is made. This ultimately means that the budget as proposed now for transport-related funding instruments can still change. The budget negotiations are expected to accelerate when Germany takes over the rotating six-months Presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 July 2020.