independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

EU Budget:Talks end without agreement

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron arrives at the European Union (EU) council headquarters for an EU leaders summit discussing the EU's long-term budget in Brussels November 23, 2012. Prospects of a deal on the EU's long-term budget dimmed on Friday after a fresh compromise proposal offered concessions to France and Poland but ignored British and German demands for deeper overall spending cuts. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir (BELGIUM - Tags: BUSINESS POLITICS)

NEGOTIATIONS between EU leaders on the €1 trillion long-term EU budget have ended without agreement.

The talks are now suspended and will reconvene at a later date.

Although there was no collapse of the talks and some progress was made, it wasn't deemed sufficient to carry on at this summit.

The failure to reach agreement has potentially serious implications for Taoiseach Enda Kenny ahead of Ireland's EU Presidency.

During the talks, David Cameron, who wants a real-terms freeze in EU spending between 2014 and 2020, was pushing for the EU to cut its wage bill by 10pc, push officials' retirement age up to 68 from 63 and reduce generous pensions benefits.

The measures would cut around €6bn from the 7-year budget, British officials say, a fractional amount in actual terms but one with heavy symbolic value at a time when all EU countries are struggling to keep budgets in check.

Cameron, trailing in the polls on the back of unpopular public spending cuts and weak growth, said Europe had to reduce "unaffordable spending" if it was to retool its economy.

"That is what is happening at home, that is what needs to happen here," he told reporters as he arrived for a second day of talks on a budget that Cameron has threatened to veto unless there are deep cuts to the proposed 1 trillion euro package.

Officials said it was an issue on which Cameron intended to "hang tough" during negotiations that could run late on Friday.

Cameron's stance has tapped into a rising anti-EU mood in Britain, where a largely Eurosceptic press has for year portrayed the EU as a wasteful bureaucracy filled with staff on overly generous pay packages.

It may also appease the anti-EU camp in his ruling Conservative Party.

But he also has tacit support in northern corners of Europe, such as Germany, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands, where there is an acknowledgement that if the budget is going to be cut, EU administration costs, which account for nearly €63bn, need to come under the knife.

In the latest proposal administration costs are not touched.

However, Cameron's demand for more cuts, coupled with a pledge to protect Britain's cherished annual EU rebate, has upset the European Commission, the EU's executive, and some leaders as they struggle to narrow divisions and reach a deal.

In an email sent to journalists late on Thursday night, the Commission pointed out that the salaries of British civil servants are set to rise by around 1 percent, while Cameron is calling for EU civil servant wages to be cut by 10pc.

Cameron has countered that about 200 of the Commission's 30,000 employees are paid more than he is -- in excess of €180,000 a year.



'BLOCK COMPROMISE'



French President Francois Hollande said he could not accept that "the richest countries come and ask for rebate cheques" -- a direct dig at the money Britain gets back from the budget, most of which is paid by France.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, whose country is the biggest net recipient of EU funds, said talk of cutting administration costs was a mistake that could block a deal.

"We shouldn't fall into a trap such as when someone says '100 billion or 10 billion of cuts', and pretends it's about administration.

This is an effort to block the compromise more than anything else," he said.

British officials played down reports Cameron had had a "bust-up" with Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso when he presented his plan to cut €6bn from administration.

In its proposal, Britain has said that EU workers aged under 58 should have their retirement age raised to 68 from 63, that the total wage bill should be cut 10pc and that officials' pensions should be reduced from 70pc to 60pc of their final salaries, which would save €1.5bn.

Reports in British newspapers said another target for cuts could be a compensation payment given to some EU officials who live outside their home country.

"These are not dramatic changes," one British official said.

"The Commission and others are telling the Greeks, Italians and others that they should put the retirement age up to 68.

"One concession that was made in the latest draft of the budget plan from Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, was to raise the hours EU officials must work each week to 40 from 37.5.

(Additional reporting Reuters)

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