Tuesday 20 August 2019

Editorial: 'Ireland faces a big battle on future EU budget plans'

Rural communities will need support. Stock Image
Rural communities will need support. Stock Image


The apportioning of "big jobs" at EU level is still incomplete. It is a necessary process to find people of quality to help a bloc of nations order its affairs into the future.

The process has an additional value in helping people identify to some extent with a process which too often appears complex and remote.

But soon, the new EU leaders and managers will be fully confirmed in their posts. And for better or worse, before this year ends, we are likely to see some form of resolution, be it ever so provisional, to the issues surrounding Brexit. Then, something approaching normal life will resume.

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In the meantime, the Irish Government needs to keep its eye on more prosaic matters which remain more central to all our futures than some of those more eye-catching and dramatic ones. Tomorrow in Brussels, at a little-noticed gathering of finance ministers, negotiations on a future EU budget programme will resume, at a time of great change.

The hope persists that EU leaders can by the end of this year agree a multi-year budget programme for the coming seven years, 2021-2027. The talks happen in the shadow of Brexit, which will leave a €12bn budget hole in the EU coffers, raising some questions about the future of things like regional and social grants and, of course, farm funding.

Earlier this week, the EU's most senior budget official, Gert Koopman, was in Dublin for a meeting with Irish officials. Mr Koopman was preparing the ground for what will be long and difficult negotiations, which have a tight time constraint.

In an ideal world, EU leaders should sign off on the seven-year budget plan at their summit next December. That would leave less than a year to get European Parliament approval and detailed spending programmes mapped out.

Mr Koopman understandably dislikes the concept of "net contributor" and "net beneficiary". This is because they devalue EU solidarity and risk downplaying other membership benefits, such as huge trade advantages to enhance prosperity, and other good things such as valuable cultural and educational links across member states.

But there are some realities which must be faced. Ireland was, for years, a net beneficiary from the EU coffers and in recent years, as a wealthier country, has become a modest net contributor.

In a post-Brexit world, the reality is that Ireland must pay more, and do more with lower Brussels payments, especially for rural development and agriculture. These potential changes have been well flagged and the Irish Government has made a virtue of necessity by saying we are ready to accept the general principles of a new reality.

Clearly, the details of these negotiations will be central to a fair outcome for Ireland. The fallout from Brexit means Ireland's rural and farming communities will need more support to cushion against the impact on Irish food production. That also poses huge communication challenges.

So meetings in Brussels, such the gathering of EU finance ministers tomorrow, are crucial. It is time to get back to more low-key realities.

Irish Independent

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