A Test of ‘Solidarity’: EU Deadlocked over Attempts to Stuff Brexit-Sized Budget Hole

France's President Emmanuel Macron arrives for the second day of a special European Council summit in Brussels on February 21, 2020, held to discuss the next long-term budget of the European Union (EU). (Photo by Ludovic Marin / various sources / AFP) (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images)
LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images

A second day of negotiating over the post-Brexit EU budget is looking to end again in deadlock with member-states split between the “Frugals”, who want less spending; the poorer, mostly former Soviet satellite states who want more money; and the European Parliament which wants the budget period increased to a massive €1.32 trillion to help turn the EU carbon neutral.

Negotiations were set to be tense with reports that diplomats were “fighting like ferrets in a sack” over how to make up the €75 billion shortfall in the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) left by Brexit, with the UK formerly being the bloc’s third-largest contributor.

European leaders are discussing the 2021-2027 budget, initially proposed in May 2018 to be €1.25 trillion — a quarter of a trillion euros higher than the previous period’s budget. Summit host Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, proposed a compromise of €1.094 trillion, but that has also been met with resistance as it requires cuts from subsidies and demands member states pay more into Brussels.

“Are you asking if we’re going to resolve the whole budget discussion this weekend? No, I don’t think so,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said as she arrived in Brussels, Belgium, on Friday in comments reported by Agence France-Presse.

Denmark is one of the four “Frugals”, which along with The Netherlands, Austria, and Sweden, want Michel’s proposed budget to be cut and modernised, with critics saying the MFF is designed for the 1980s and not fit for 21st-century Europe.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte turned up for the first day of negotiations with a biography of Chopin to read during deliberations because he felt there was no point in discussing a budget which he did not support.

“I cannot sign up to this proposal. The proposal is simply not good,” Prime Minister Rutte said in comments reported by Reuters.

Then there is major EU player France, which backs higher spending, specifically to cover farmers’ subsidies — from which French farmers benefit enormously — as well as wanting more funds for the proto-EU army, the European Defence Union, and more money for the “Friends of Cohesion”.

The Friends of Cohesion are the 17 central, eastern, and southern European nations which are less economically developed than other countries in the bloc and benefit from subsidies to raise living standards.

“New areas of spending, like research or migration, defence or innovation are important policy areas, but they cannot be at the expense of cohesion and the common agriculture policy,” said Mateusz Morawiecki, the prime minister of Poland, which is one of the Friends of Cohesion.

There are also the ‘sympathetic’ countries like Germany and Finland which agree with calls for modernisation but lack the energy to commit to radical changes.

Issues are further complicated by the nations’ representative MEPs in the European Parliament, who want the MFF increased to a staggering €1.32 billion for projects such as turning the entire European Union ‘carbon neutral’ by 2050. European Parliament President David Sassoli criticised Mr Michel’s budget proposal as “a series of cuts”.

The problem of wanting to do more whilst having fewer members to pay for it was obvious to some EU countries, however, with Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel, saying: “The proposal is we want to do more with less. I don’t know if Charles Michel is the twin brother of [magician] David Copperfield.”

The EU agreeing the next MFF is more than just showing the ability to pass a budget; rather that post-Brexit it is proof of solidarity between the remaining disparate 27 countries. Seizing upon the impact the UK’s departure has on the psyche of the EU, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, said that the bloc must press on with its endeavours regardless.

“It is unacceptable to think that because the UK is no longer part of the EU, we need to give up on our ambitions,” Mr Macron said in comments reported by The Telegraph.

Standing by his desire for Ever Greater Spending to build an Ever Closer Union, he continued: “For me, there is no compromise if we’re compromising European ambitions.”

While the UK may have left the EU, its influence remains. The Telegraph reflects how former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had secured a rebate for the UK from the EU budget 36 years ago, leading to other countries successfully obtaining their own rebates.

One diplomat told the newspaper: “The UK might have gone but there are at least four Thatchers in the EU now.”


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