MEPs from the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) committee voted today (1 September) to seek to halt further cuts for agencies under its remit, after concerns were raised by the committee’s chair Giovanni La Via about the priorities of the EU's total 2017 budget now being debated.
ENVI’s remit includes EFSA as well as the European Medicines Agency (EMA), European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), European Environment Agency (EEA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
“Considering that they have already reached the general target of 5% staff reduction, and also to ensure that they can cope with the new tasks assigned by the EU regulation, our amendments (staff establishment plans), are technical ways to reflect this decision,” a spokesperson for La Via told us today.
In his draft opinion, backed by the ENVI MEPs in the committee's first meeting after the summer break, La Via said he acknowledged that a substantial part of the EU's funding had to be dedicated to major challenges like security and migration, however he said he "strongly rejects" further cuts to funding for environmental and health issues.
"[A] high level of environmental and health protection in the Union is a precondition for economic prosperity, and [...] food and feed safety and civil protection mechanisms are core values to all European citizens and, hence, to the European Parliament," the meeting agenda read.
A spokesperson for EFSA told us: "EFSA welcomes the vote by the ENVI Committee and continues to monitor the 2017 budgetary procedure closely."
Jeopardising food safety?
Concerns about EFSA’s budgetary backing were also raised by Slovakian MEP Monika Flašíková Beňová, who wrote in a question to the Commission in May: “The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has been protecting consumers from risks associated with the food chain since 2002.
“In its 2020 strategy, however, it has revealed that, due to financial difficulties, staffing is to be reduced by 10%. Yet the EFSA's workload is increasing in line with the ever growing range of services it provides, and it is dealing with ever more complex scientific issues.”
She asked: “Is the Commission not concerned that a reduction to the EFSA budget could jeopardise the quality of food safety monitoring in the EU and put the safety and health of EU citizens at risk?”
The concern followed the release of EFSA’s own budget document in April, which showed plateauing funds and staffing reductions of 10% running up to 2018.
EFSA’s total used budget for 2015 was €79.5m, while the budget for 2016 was set at €79.41m, €79.42m for 2017 and €79.57m for 2018 and 2019, according to the Parma-based authority’s Programming Document 2016-2019.
EFSA said efficiency measures would be needed to help balance the books.
“In the coming years, EFSA will continue to execute its core and supporting activities in line with EU legislation. This will be challenging as the Agency’s resources are becoming scarcer, as is the case with other public organisations – staffing is set to be reduced by 10% over the five year period 2013-2018 and then remain stable until 2020, and the budget over the next five years will, at best, remain stable."
There were 520 staff members in 2014, which will fall to 519 by 2019.
At the same time, there has been increasing demand for EFSA to take more responsibilities like novel food applications off the hands of member states in a bid to centralise services.
There has also been increasing pressure to up transparency and accessibility of its work.