Saturday 17 March 2018

EU budget talks falter as ministers take hard line

EU budget talks have broken down. Photo: Bloomberg News
EU budget talks have broken down. Photo: Bloomberg News

Sarah Collins in Brussels

EU budget talks have broken down, leaving the bloc with a possible spending shortfall for next year.

Negotiations between EU ministers and European parliamentarians ended abruptly yesterday evening despite Irish support for a compromise that would have granted MEPs a say in future fiscal negotiations, traditionally the purview of governments.

In exchange, MEPs had agreed to bow to national politicians' demands that spending increases on the EU's €122bn budget be capped at €4bn next year. Parliamentarians argue that the bloc needs an extra €8bn to meet its commitments, which include the setting up of a new diplomatic corps, regional infrastructure projects and the ITER nuclear fusion reactor.

"We are talking about the most important EU policies," the parliament's president, Jerzy Buzek, said. "This is about exit strategies from the crisis, creating jobs and financing education and training."

Ireland continues to get more out of the EU budget than it puts in, receiving €1.9bn in 2009 -- mostly in farm aid -- after paying out just over €1.5bn.

"Member states are more than happy to benefit from the EU budget, but certain countries -- amongst them the richest in the EU -- don't want to pay for policies that help their neighbours," said French MEP Alain Lamassoure, one of the parliament's negotiators.

The UK took the hardest line during the budget talks, leading the charge for spending caps at a recent Brussels summit.

The UK is making some of the most swingeing spending cuts in the bloc, with £81bn (€95bn) being shaved off the budget over the next four years.

Diplomats say that Britain, along with the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Latvia, were intransigent yesterday, refusing to even countenance parliamentarians' demands.

Ireland, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Poland -- and France and Germany, to a certain extent -- wanted to prolong the talks to see if a deal could be reached.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, parliament is responsible for rubber-stamping the bloc's seven-year budget plan, which comes up for renegotiation early next year.

MEPs are also pushing for novel sources of EU income, including new taxes. But EU ministers, who are having to make harsh cuts in their own budgets, have stuck firm to their demands that Brussels do the same.

Irish Independent

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