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.
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)
November 3, 2016: The High Court rules in Gina Miller
March 29, 2017: May triggers Article 50
April 29, 2017: EU-27 heads of state and government meet
June 8, 2017: General election
June 19, 2017: First round of negotiations
November 20, 2017: New headquarters for EU agencies
February 28, 2018: Draft revocation contract published
March 29, 2018: May visits every British nation
July 6, 2018: Cabinet meets at Checkers
July 9, 2018: David Davis and Boris Johnson step down
August 23, 2018: No-deal notices
19th-20th September 2018: summit in Salzburg
October 20, 2018: March referendum takes place
November 14, 2018: The terms of the redemption agreement are being negotiated
November 15, 2018: Raab resigns
November 22, 2018: May says Deal within reach
December 10, 2018: May draws final vote
December 29, 2018: The ferry contract raises concerns
January 15, 2019: A sensible vote will take place
March 12, 2019: The second sensible vote will take place
13th-14th March 2019: MEPs rule out Brexit without a deal
March 16, 2019: The Pro Brexit March takes place
March 21, 2019: Extension dates offered
March 23, 2019: Put it to the People The march is taking place
March 27, 2019: May offers withdrawal
March 29, 2019: “Brexit Day”
April 2, 2019: Alternatives fired during the preliminary vote
April 5, 2019: May requests further delay
April 11, 2019: ‘Flexible’ extension until Halloween approved
May 24, 2019: May announces resignation
July 23, 2019: Boris Johnson is appointed the next British Prime Minister
August 25, 2019: Johnson discusses trade agreement with Donald Trump
October 2, 2019: Johnson proposes final Brexit offer
October 17, 2019: New Brexit agreement with the EU agreed
October 19, 2019: Debate and vote on new Brexit deal
October 19, 2019: Government requests Brexit extension
October 19, 2019: Requests a new vote
October 21, 2019: ‘Sensible vote’ excluded
October 28, 2019: European leaders agree to extend the date
December 13, 2019: Johnson’s Conservative Party wins parliamentary majority
December 20, 2019: MPs support Johnson’s draft EU withdrawal treaty
January 23, 2020: Johnson’s cancellation agreement becomes law
January 31, 2020: Great Britain leaves the European Union
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.