Van Rompuy to present revised EU budget plan as states differ on deal

Enda Kenny opened the refurbished Irish College in Leuven, just outside Brussels, yesterday, home to the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe. Founded in the early 17th century, the college was one of many built throughout the continent in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries to educate Irish Catholics. The Government, the government of Northern Ireland and private benefactors backed the project. The Taoiseach is with Northern Ireland junior minister Jennifer McCann, benefactors Martin and Carmel Naughton, and Northern Ireland junior minister Jonathan Bell. photograph: peter cavanagh

Enda Kenny opened the refurbished Irish College in Leuven, just outside Brussels, yesterday, home to the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe. Founded in the early 17th century, the college was one of many built throughout the continent in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries to educate Irish Catholics. The Government, the government of Northern Ireland and private benefactors backed the project. The Taoiseach is with Northern Ireland junior minister Jennifer McCann, benefactors Martin and Carmel Naughton, and Northern Ireland junior minister Jonathan Bell. photograph: peter cavanagh

Tue, Feb 5, 2013, 00:00

European Council president Herman Van Rompuy will present a revised budgetary plan to European leaders on Thursday in a bid to push through agreement on the European Union’s seven-year budget, which has already faced a delay of more than two months.

While Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said he was hopeful agreement on the €1 trillion deal would be agreed this week, there were signs that divisions between member states were persisting.

Britain’s minister for Europe David Lidington said yesterday there would not be a deal “at any price”, pointing out that there was “a lack of ambition on agricultural reform”.

As well as cuts to the Common Agricultural Policy (Cap), Britain was looking for a decrease in structural cohesion funds which should be “cut in a way that focuses help on the poor countries, not the poorer region of rich countries”, he said.

Britain, which is campaigning for a freeze to the budget, is also seeking a reduction in the administration costs involved in running the European institutions themselves.

Mr Lidington was speaking after he attended a meeting of the general affairs council in Brussels yesterday that was chaired by Mr Gilmore.

The meeting typically serves as a preparatory session for the meeting of European leaders at the European Council.

European budget

While discussions on trade took place, the main item on the agenda was the European budget, with Mr Van Rompuy addressing ministers.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Gilmore said he did not want to “minimise the challenge” involved in securing agreement.

“This is a budget that has to be agreed by 27 member states. It then has to secure consent of the European Parliament. That is a complex process by any standard.”

Earlier in the day Taoiseach Enda Kenny met Mr Van Rompuy, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso and European Parliament president Martin Schulz to discuss the negotiations on the budget, also known as the multi-annual financial framework (MFF).

The Taoiseach also highlighted the challenges involved.

“Clearly there are differences of opinion,” he said, though he noted a “willingness to get a conclusion this weekend.”

EU commissioner for inter-institutional relations and administration Maros Sefcovic said a deal at the summit on Thursday and Friday would send a “positive signal” about the European economy.

Financial details

The financial details of the proposal will be announced on Thursday, when EU leaders gather in Brussels for the first European Council of the year.

Bilateral discussions are also taking place at prime ministerial level, with the German chancellor Angela Merkel meeting her French and German counterparts in advance of the meeting.

Discussions on the seven-year budget collapsed in November, after EU leaders failed to reach consensus on how the budget should be spent.

The final proposal put forward by Mr Van Rompuy in November was lower than the €1 trillion initially proposed by the commission, with recent reports suggesting that a further €30 billion could go, potentially from the EU’s research budget.

But the substantive debate is not over the net amount but rather over how and where that money should be spent.

Administration budget

Among the areas of contention remain Europe’s administration budget, with Britain arguing strongly for a cut, something Mr Barroso opposes.

Given that 40 per cent of the European budget is spent on the Cap, much of it on direct payments to farmers, agriculture is also a problem area.

Ireland’s aim to secure a reform of the Cap before the end of the presidency in June is predicated on securing an agreement on the MFF.