Monday

18th Feb 2019

Agenda

Budget talks take centre stage this WEEK

  • The building where EU leaders and journalist are expected to spend much of the end of next week (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU leaders will gather in Brussels at the end of the week for what is expected to be an acrimonious summit on spending commitments for the next seven years.

The around €1 trillion budget (2014-2020) has to satisfy a number of different camps - sometimes overlapping - of member states who favour less spending, those who favour more, those who want farmers and/or poorer regions to continue to receive generous subsidies and those who would rather more money flows to research and innovation.

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Complicating the talks are the fact that some member states have a rebate from the budget while all member states have a veto right.

The latest budget by EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy takes a stab at making all camps happy by chopping spending plans across the board, even for Britain's rebate to which successive UK governments have been famously and determinedly attached.

London, which is seeking to pacify eurosceptics in the governing Conservative party, is seen as the toughest negotiator at the table.

If there is no deal at next week's summit, the EU leaders are likely to revisit the issue in spring next year.

Whatever leaders agree on, the budget will also have to be approved by the European Parliament. MEPs are set to remind governments of this fact when they hold a debate on the eve of the summit (21 November).

The parliament will also be in the spotlight on Wednesday over its vote on Maltese commissioner Tonio Borg, meant to take over the health portfolio.

While liberal and green MEPs have indicated they will vote against Borg due to his socially conservative views, he is likely to make the post due to centre-right and grudging centre-left backing.

However, MEPs may try and attach some caveats to their endorsement.

Borg is meant to replace his compatriot John Dalli, who resigned in October amid allegations of being involved in a tobacco lobbying scandal.

Eurozone finance ministers on Tuesday are in for a thorny session on Greece with International Monetary chief (IMF) Christine Lagarde promising that "it's not over until the fat lady sings."

At stake is the disbursement of a long-delayed bailout tranche, provided the Lagarde and ministers agree on how to deal with Greece's ballooning debt.

The IMF is insisting that eurozone governments to accept losses on their Greek loans, but Germany and other countries point to legal restraints. Instead, the ministers would like the IMF to accept moving the 2020 target to 2022 by which Greece's debt would shrink to 120 percent of GDP.

EU foreign ministers meeting on Monday in Brussels are expected to produce conclusions on Syria but not to recognise the opposition Syrian National Council, although France is among those keen on the move.

They are expected to discuss the escalating violence in Gaza following Israel's killing of Hamas' military commander Ahmed Jabari. Hamas has responded by firing hundreds of rockets into Israel.

Ministers are expected to back a European mission to train Malian forces struggling against Islamist fighters, with details on logistics to come at a meeting in December.

They will also discuss EU-Ukraine relations following flawed elections last month.

The European Commission will on Tuesday publish a paper on how member states should improve education and training skills, saying there should be more focus on "learning outcomes."

Education is not an area where Brussels has much of a say but the economic crisis has seen it become much more vocal in a host of areas where it has little powers such as pension and labour market issues.

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