Wednesday

2nd Dec 2020

Low expectations on UK bill compromise

  • Cameron is still in 'no-pay' mode (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU finance ministers are meeting on Friday (7 November) amid low expectations of clinching a deal that would allow the UK and the Netherlands to pay their outstanding bills to the EU budget in instalments.

The UK has a surcharge of €2bn, while the Netherlands still has to pay €642 million by 1 December. The sums, which are unprecedented, were communicated last month after the countries reported higher gross national incomes. Other member states are getting money back, notably France (€1bn) and Germany (€320 million).

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"What we can expect is for ministers to try to agree there is a problem, but I wouldn't hold my breath on a solution just yet," an EU diplomat told this website after a meeting of EU ambassadors on Thursday.

What is on the table is for a minor change to the budget rules, so that countries can pay in instalments. Currently, if a country fails to pay on 1 December, there is extra interest to pay for every month of delay.

But British PM David Cameron on Thursday rejected this olive branch.

He told participants at a dinner in Helsinki that he will not accept the compromise deal and said the row is pushing the UK towards the exit door, The Guardian reports.

Cameron is arguing that that both the overall sum as well as the short notice is "unacceptable".

He said the matter could not be regarded as a simply "technical" one and that "the EU needs to show more flexibility and respond to voters’ concerns”.

But other British voices have suggested that the row could de-escalate over the coming weeks.

"The sensible thing now is to try to calm the situation down, and to look at the facts, and to look at a practical solution to the challenges that various member states face," Britain's newly appointed EU commissioner Jonathan Hill told the BBC.

The EU commission has warned that bigger changes to the way the budget is calculated would also put the British rebate up for debate and open a "Pandora box" of other national requests.

Meanwhile the Dutch finance minister, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, struck a more conciliatory tone.

"The Netherlands wants, first of all, to have full information on the figures. Then we want flexibility over the payment. It is a very short timescale for such a big demand," he said Thursday when he chaired a meeting of eurozone finance minister.

"Finally, what we want to avoid is having this problem in the future," he added.

Irish finance minister Michael Noonan also suggested Britain and the Netherlands should pay in instalments.

"What I hear is that they don't want to pay everything on 1 December," he told reporters. "I don't have any objection to Britain to settle their bill by (the end of) 2015 ... on an instalment basis."

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European Parliament negotiators are demanding €39bn in new funding for EU programmes such as Horizon research and Erasmus, in talks with the German EU presidency on the budget. Meanwhile, rule-of-law enforcement negotiations have only just begun.

EU budget talks suspended in fight for new funds

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