The 2023 EU budget announcement... an exercise in confusion

3 December 2022

The EU annual 2023 budget has been approved by the Council and the Parliament last week and (some) eager Europeans have gone to look at the expenditures by area of the budget headings and at the NextGenerationEU disbursements… only to get bewildered. Looking at the budget, the amounts with a name related to the Next Generation EU are extremely low. However, a revealing sentence under the bombastic public announcement on the budget in social media mentions that “In parallel with the annual budget, EU countries will continue to rely on the NextGenerationEU recovery instrument to deliver on their priorities.”

Given some of the comments under the post, this sentence was not detected or understood by many. It is also clear that citizens do not understand the opaque ways of EU accounts handle borrowing and lending and special instruments. Large amounts of EU operations are OFF BUDGET and not visible in the yearly budget. Next Generation EU is simply not in. The budget lines in the annual budget that mentioning the recovery package are small amounts linked to management or coordination, but not the NextGernerationEU programmes, causing even more confusion. Next Generation EU funds are simply not in the annual EU budget figures.

While for the lucky few EU budget legally erudite readers this may be clear, it is a blunder in public communication and a damaging lack of transparency. For communications with citizens, it is important to mention the EU operations clearly and transparently.

In addition… a little point that is not announced. The approved budget is not the implemented budget. Due to delays in the approval of the Multiannual Financial Framework and the delays in the regulations, much of the Cohesion Policy has not been committed in 2021. According to the rules, the allocation for 2021 has been lost… between the decommitted Cohesion policy and rural development funds this amounts to around €50 billion, without considering other parts of the budget. Thus, while we marvel at the levels of EU funding, we miss the actual amounts implemented.

I think a lot of work is needed to bring some governance improvements and transparency to the budget.