by N. Peter Kramer
‘The EU doesn’t need the UK to show its own lack of unity’, or words to that effect! French President, Emmanuel Macron, made his pronouncement shortly after the EU budget talks ended in disarray when member states dug in their heels. Last Friday the 27 EU leaders failed to make a breakthrough in talks on the €1trillion budget after net-contributors known as the ‘frugal states’ (Austria, Denmark, The Netherlands and Sweden) and Germany refused, in the interest of their taxpayers, to pay more than 1% of their gross national income. They point to the UK, a large contributor, which has left a gap of €60-75billion after leaving the EU. ‘Now we have a smaller union, we simply have to cut our coat according to our cloth’, they wrote in the Financial Times.
On the other side, we see many net-receiving member states, asking for much more money. Not only to fill the gap left by the UK but also for funding new priorities and for more money for “Regional Fund” spending in their countries. They are strongly supported by the European Parliament, which, through its President David Sassoli, let it be known that it will veto any budget lower than €1.3 trillion.
After the first day of negotiations, the European Commission, led by President Ursula Von der Leyen, offered to find billions of euros of savings for the seven-year financial plan (Multi-annual Financial Framework – MFF) starting in 2021. However, the special summit broke up late Friday without agreement after the proposal was rebuffed by both sides: the receivers (not enough) and the contributors (too much). Another summit will probably be needed. But when? New Council President, Charles Michel, is confronted with an impossible task.
President Macron hit the nail on the head: ‘The EU doesn’t need the UK to show its own lack of unity’. The question now is, will the EU unity which has until now held in Brexit negotiations with the UK continue. Insiders in ‘Brussels’ are already talking about the first cracks in Barnier’ s fairy-tale that only the UK would suffer as only now does it become more evident that some member-states will have to pay a heavy toll.