Arriving at the University of Amsterdam on 20 November, Charles Michel sees himself as a young Erasmus student on the same campus. Wonderful years at the dawn of his journey as a convinced European. In front of him, a bed of students. The former Belgian Prime Minister, who will take over the presidency of the European Council on 1 December, has in his wallet an anecdote all found to put this young audience in the pocket. He says that when he arrives in Amsterdam in his younger years, he buys a used bike from a person on the street. "You know what happened: two weeks later, I get it stolen," he says. Then, a few weeks later, someone on the street offered to sell me a used bike and it was my bike! So, I bought the same bike twice. Today, I would like to make an announcement: if someone has my old bike, I'd like to buy it a third time! "
We do not know if Charles Michel is cycling in the streets of Brussels, but we know that in the presidency of the Council he will have to pedal hard, and often in sauerkraut. The first case he will take care of is particularly difficult: the negotiation of the multiannual financial framework. Clearly, the European budget for the next seven years (2021-2027). First information: the Croatian Presidency, the first half of 2020, will not touch on this file; she is also in no hurry to take care of it. It is the President of the Council who will tour the capitals and will propose a budget early next year.
Germany blocks on its "1%"
The positions are very antagonistic. The Germans do not intend to devote more than 1% of European wealth to the MMF (acronym for the European multiannual budget). Nor do they wish to abandon the 'rebate rebate' obtained in 1985 after the British rebate, which they enjoy in the same way as the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and Denmark. With the departure of the British (if confirmed …) from the EU, the initial justification for the Germanic discount disappears. "But that does not mean that in the meantime other justifications have not appeared," says the Germans, who argue that even with 1% of European income, the German contribution will increase by 10 billion euros, which is a "considerable" effort.
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Charles Michel, an ally of President Macron within the European liberal family, will have a lot to do to improve the original copy. It may eventually rely on the European Parliament, which is generally more generous. The Parliament does not have the power to decide on the amount, but it can reject, without modifying, the draft European budget. It is a lever that, if used properly, can possibly persuade the Member States to live up to the ambitions they otherwise display. Because it is the paradox of the Member States: when it comes to defining a strategic plan until 2050, they do not hesitate to deploy the big words, but when it comes to checkout, the moose are much more timid. "Another paradox: the same states that do not want to spend more, or even want to spend less, are also the most ardent defenders of enlargement in the Western Balkans," says one at the Elysee. This means investing more European funds for these new members, none of whom will be a net contributor to the European budget. We are also looking for coherence …
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Belgium, "a country with 6 governments … and more than 1 000 beers"
But who else but a Belgian to solve the quadrature of the circle? Charles Michel knows what he is talking about when it comes to finding difficult compromises. "I come from Belgium, a country with 6 governments, 7 parliaments, 3 national languages and more than 1 000 beers," he jokes in front of the students. In Europe there are 8 political groups in the European Parliament, 24 official languages and 50 000 different beer brands. I should feel comfortable in my new job. It will certainly not be boring! Charles Michel will have to brush off the mined land of "new own resources of the Union", in addition to those that exist (VAT, customs duties …). If the Member States do not want to put it on their own, what tax resources can the EU rely on? Several avenues have been studied without much progress to date: a carbon tax at EU borders, a tax on financial transactions, a part of the future digital tax, etc.
The task Charles Michel is going to tackle is compounded by another difficulty: for the first time, some countries, including France, supported by the von der Leyen Commission, want to introduce a clause conditioning the payment of EU funds to of the rule of law. Obviously, Poland, first recipient of European funds (86 billion euros between 2014 and 2020), and Hungary (25 billion euros) are mainly targeted given their political evolution. Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, repeated Friday, November 22, that the payment of European funds should not be "related to the rule of law." It should be noted, however, that Hungary has accepted a penalty of 500 million forints (1.49 billion euros) decided by the Brussels Commission because of the diversion of European subsidies, sometimes in the entourage of the Prime Minister. This penalty will result in the withdrawal of support for certain controversial projects or tenders in Magyar countries. Across the country, it is a shortfall of 150 euros per year for Hungarians. This is a first signal: we no longer laugh with the money of Europeans. Especially at the moment when Charles Michel is preparing to tender the bowl in the richest capitals …
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