Most EU leaders support funding of union’s post-Brexit shortfall

Upbeat summit talks revolve around Brexit deficit of €7bn, border controls and migrants

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker:  the budget discussion was “less conflictual” than expected. Photograph: Patrick Seeger

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker: the budget discussion was “less conflictual” than expected. Photograph: Patrick Seeger

 

A clear majority of EU leaders have pledged to increase their budget contributions to the union to bridge the post-Brexit deficit arising from the UK’s departure to allow the union to take on a number of new projects.

The debate on the post-2020 seven-year budget at the informal leaders’ meeting saw a remarkably upbeat and positive start to what is always a long and difficult process. Leaders also backed commission calls to expedite the process to enable decisions to be made before European elections next year.

The budget will see an annual deficit of €7 billion arising from Brexit with added pressures arising from new commitments to border controls, migrants, and the expansion of the Erasmus programme.

Leaders did not put figures on the extent of their willingness to increase contributions – a commitment previously made by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar – but the commission has proposed an overall increase of 10-20 per cent.

Commission president Jean-Claude Junker said the budget discussion was “less conflictual” than expected but warned that unless decisions were taken before June 2019, there would be consequences in terms, for example, of the jobs or researchers or the aim of doubling the number of border guards employed by the union.

Among the budget issues raised was that of the contentious “conditionality” in EU funding – the possibility of withholding funds from states like Poland and Hungary which are in serious breach of the rule of law or refusing to share in the burden of relocating refugees.

Withholding money

Council president Donald Tusk expressed surprise to journalists at the widespread support for the idea. That included, he said, the Polish prime minister, who insisted only that the grounds for withholding funding would have to be “objective”, not political.

The leaders sidestepped a confrontation with the European Parliament over the controversial Spitzenkandidaten system for electing the president of the commission. The system, which was used in 2014, is an informal convention allowing the party with most votes in the European elections to nominate its candidate for the post.

MEPs have announced that they will refuse to nominate any candidate in next year’s election who is not a product of the process, which they say, somewhat unconvincingly, brings the election closer to the citizen.

But the leaders, who share with parliament the ultimate say, reject what they call the “automatism” of the Spitzenkanditaten system which denies them the choice of who to select.

Hardy annuals

At the summit, they simply insisted on their prerogative while promising to take into account the views of parliament.

Two hardy annuals of EU reform were kicked firmly into touch by the summit – the idea of reducing the size of the commission won no support, while that of merging the functions of the commission president with that of the council president, who has been described as the leaders’ own shop steward, was also seen as a step too far in what some see as a land grab by the commission.

A proposal to elect some MEPs by “transnational” Europe-wide lists, strongly supported by France’s Emmanuel Macron and the Taoiseach, was put back to 2024.

The leaders also expressed their solidarity with Greece and Cyprus over “illegal” attempts by Turkey to curtail their maritime rights. They upheld “the sovereign right” of the Republic of Cyprus to explore and exploit its territorial waters in accordance with international law.