Politics Life at 28

European Council: Major confusion over EU budget

22 November 2012
Presseurop
The Daily Telegraph, Público, El País & 4 others

Meeting in Brussels for an extraordinary European Council summit, Europe’s leaders are to about to outline the EU’s budget for years to come in an atmosphere that has already been marked by threats of a veto from various countries. The European press examines the bargaining process and attempts to identify the probable winners and losers.

Negotiations are to be based on proposals put forward by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, which plan to trim € 75 billion from an initial figure of €1,048bn. Major contributing countries, especially the United Kingdom, want to see their contributions reduced, while smaller states are worried about cuts to the precious cohesion fund.

According to the Daily Telegraph’s leader

The Daily Telegraph, London

Mr Cameron (and, we trust, the leaders of other contributor countries whose taxpayers are similarly fed up with the institution’s shameless profligacy) is prepared to take a stand this time. Since the EU is negotiating a budget for the next seven years, this is the opportunity to put a brake on the Commission’s fiscal incontinence, an ambition that should be shared by those who worry that threats of a veto are jeopardising Britain’s long-term position in the EU. If anything, the arrogant refusal of Brussels to countenance any slimming down of its bloated bureaucracy is fomenting the very anti-Europeanism that the EU’s cheerleaders are anxious to avoid.

Portugal goes to today’s summit fearing that its structural funds and rural development grants will be slashed by €5.25 billion. Público in Lisbon writes

Público, Lisbon

The approval of budgets has always been a difficult task, but this time national interests, wounds opened by disagreements over the euro crisis, not to mention differing perceptions about the EU’s future have made a deal a mission well-nigh impossible. If the European Commission had the political strength of yore, perhaps member states would accept a 5% increase to the financial package. […] But, given the current balance of power, [Commission’s president José Manuel] Durão Barroso’s proposal was immediately reduced by the [European] Council president [Herman Van Rompuy] and, even then, still meets with reservations from various countries, which threaten to veto the proposal […] the cacophony grows shriller and Europe is coming closer to institutional chaos.

In Spain, El País expresses similar concerns about the cuts, which have come at the worst possible moment for Madrid –

El País, Madrid

If the [Van Rompuy] proposal is successful, Spain stands to lose € 20 billion. At a time when it is in the throes of a full-blown recession, it is about to become a net contributor to the EU for the first ever.

In Budapest, the conservative daily Magyar Nemzet rails against an adjustment it believes to be unfair –

Magyar Nemzet, Budapest

It is absolutely scandalous and unacceptable that the cuts will benefit richer member states while undermining poorer ones. And not surprisingly, given this context, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán can expect a special slap in the face: for mysterious reasons, Brussels wants to cut funding for Hungary by more than it does for any other member state.

“Europe, don’t flinch” headlines Gazeta Wyborcza. The Warsaw daily notes that Van Rompuy’s compromise budget is quite good for Poland, adding that saving the proposal from further big cuts would be quite a success.

Gazeta Wyborcza, Warsaw

Van Rompuy’s offer is very ‘German’. Berlin’s experts speculate an additional €2-3 bn could be offered to France for its farmers, while €2-3 bn will be taken away from Poland. Then we’ll have a deal. [...] The problem is that rational calculations are overshadowed by increasingly strong eurosceptic emotions in crisis-stricken Europe.

Le Monde looks at the national interests invoked by European capitals to defend against some of the budgetary options under discussion in Brussels and concludes that “the selfishness of European states” is largely “bogus”. For the Parisian daily, the insistence on “getting money back” which recalls former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is part of a well rehearsed theatrical performance –

Le Monde, Paris

This selfish credo is far removed from the reality of the euro [...] Europeans do not want to stand together, but the truth is they do. Like an old couple that is unable to get a divorce and forced to share the same house, they have resorted to counting their pocket money to show their defiance.

In a similar vein, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung argues that the situation is hardly dramatic. Notwithstanding any outstanding divergences, it writes that the “EU budget is now on the home stretch” –

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frankfurt

Everywhere you look, the signs are encouraging. Even the British, who were threatening to use their veto, have welcomed the latest compromise presented by Herman Van Rompuy. […] In the context of the economic crisis, the fear of the extensive damage to the EU that could result from unsuccessful talks is simply too great. […] The strategy adopted by the Commission is clear: it does not want to burden major contributors with excessive demands. […] That is why Van Rompuy has planned on member states committing € 973 billion, which is close to the 960 billion recommended by Germany.