“Fight like ferrets in a pocket” as the EU tries to close the Brexit checkout

Presidents, prime ministers and chancellors across Europe will pack their bags later this week to prepare for a long weekend in Brussels. However, you won’t enjoy the baroque majesty of the Grand Place or enjoy the local culinary delights. Instead, they are preparing for the most notorious event, a “four-shirter,” to measure the length and horror of summits of EU leaders in the Belgian capital, based on the measure of clothing packaging adopted by male diplomats , The tricky topic this time? Money. And the problem? Great Britain.

Britain’s exit from the European Union has left a huge hole in the block’s budget of EUR 75 billion for the next seven years (2021 to 2027). “And now we’re fighting like ferrets in a sack,” said an EU diplomat with a sigh.

President of the European Council Charles Michel.

The new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), which covers issues such as agricultural subsidies, science programs and the EU’s efforts to combat the climate emergency, must be agreed by the Heads of State and Government and an increasingly unpredictable European Parliament before the end of the year. Without agreement, there is a risk that everything will come to a standstill in just nine months, including the inflow of cohesion funds, the money used to support the poorest Member States.

Household discussions in Brussels are always a delicate matter. But this has a different order: everyone has to pay more. Nobody wants. The EU capitals are fighting for a fight when they come to Brussels on Thursday for the first day. A final date for the summit has not been set for the diplomatic corps, but four days of talks are pending.

There are two main competitors in the budget fight. On the one hand, there are those who proudly call themselves “the frugal ones” – the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and Denmark (although there are some concerns in the camp that the new Austrian coalition government, which is now a bit green, has lost for them has gone and that the Swedes are softening). As the largest net contributor, the Frugals insisted on a budget of no more than 1% of the EU’s gross national income. The European Commission’s original proposal envisaged 1.1% – around EUR 1.25 billion over the seven years.

Then there are the “friends of cohesion”. “The friends of corruption, do you think?” spat out an EU diplomat from a frugal state.

The 15 flagged under the FoC are the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Estonia, Croatia, Malta, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Portugal and Greece.

The frugals say that the Commission’s 90 billion cuts in agriculture and cohesion financing are not enough. The FoC says they are being wrongly attacked and that the richer countries should cough even more to start a struggle between East and West.

The debate is all the more toxic since the Commission has proposed that cohesion funds should in future also depend on the Member States’ observance of the rule of law. It is a red rag for the bulls in the nationalist governments of Hungary and Poland, who are already arguing with Brussels about their judicial reforms.

Then there are France and Germany. Berlin’s main concern is that they don’t look any worse than the French. In Paris, the government is only worried about how much money will go to its farmers, said a senior EU official. The fragmentation of national debates makes it impossible to say what will happen, a second official said, and even Irish politics is in turmoil after the elections that made Sinn Féin the second largest parliamentary party.

Related Slideshow: Brexit-A Timeline (provided by Photo Services)

At the summit, European Council President Charles Michel, a former Belgian prime minister, carried out angry shuttle diplomacy in the capitals.

Michel made an alternative proposal that the budget be 1.074% of the bloc’s gross national income (EUR 1.094 billion) to split the difference between the warring camps.

“We do not expect Member States to be happy in these negotiations, but the level of dissatisfaction will be critical,” said a senior EU official. “No chance,” replied a frugal diplomat. “There’s not much to say unless we don’t pay. And as the Rolling Stones song says, time is on my side.

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