Thursday

6th May 2021

Buzek clashes with EU leaders over 'un-European' budget

A compromise on the 2011 EU budget is likely to coalesce around a three-percent increase compared to this year's spending after a vivid discussion among EU leaders and the European Parliament's chief about the rationale of raising the figure when most capitals are being forced to cut their own budgets.

The meeting, which usually consists of EU Parliament chief Jerzy Buzek reading out a statement and then leaving, took an extra hour to wrap up, as British Prime Minister David Cameron intervened to counter the parliament's plea for a six percent increase in the EU budget. Roughly a dozen other leaders then intervened as well, mostly backing the British premier. The Belgian and the Greek prime ministers were among the few who supported Mr Buzek's plea.

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"Anyone who is against the six-percent increase is anti-European," Mr Buzek told EU leaders, according to diplomats present at the debate, which took place behind closed doors.

Mr Cameron retorted, diplomats say: "Wait a minute. I just cut the budget for my police, does that make me anti-police?"

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also jumped in: "And I cut the German budget, does that make me anti-German?"

In a press conference after the meeting, Mr Buzek played down the opposition of leaders speaking against him.

"Most of the people who took the floor supported him [Mr Cameron], but 10 is not a majority [out of 27]. Opinions were split, everybody said these are rough times, but not everywhere is as severe as in the description Mr Cameron made," the Polish politician said.

He also underlined that the parliament is willing to compromise on the six-percent figure, as long as there is "serious talk" about ensuring future funding for the EU's old and new policies.

The Lisbon Treaty, he argued, had created new tasks for the EU: "More responsibilities means more funds."

"It is absolutely necessary to have a compromise and finish [budget talks] in three weeks and then we want to start a serious discussion about future funding of EU policies. This is about the future of the EU itself. When we talk about cuts, we also have to think about the cost of non-Europe, of not having the added value of the EU."

Mr Buzek's office on Friday also contacted press to say that he had been misquoted by diplomats. "President Buzek did not make such a remark, far from it. He is clearly not of the opinion that 'anyone who opposed the 6 percent increase was anti-European.' This is a misquote," his press spokeswoman, Inga Rosinska, said.

A compromise around the three-percent figure is likely to emerge in the coming weeks, say EU officials familiar with the matter.

In something of a u-turn after earlier calling for a complete budget freeze, Mr Cameron on Thursday drafted a joint letter with 10 other leaders speaking of a maximum increase of 2.91 percent. The leaders of Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Austria, Finland, Slovenia and Estonia signed up.

The EU Council had this summer already agreed to a maximum increase of 2.9 percent. Britain was against it at the time, but failed to gather the necessary majority to block the move.

A budget increase of six percent, as proposed by the parliament, is "especially unacceptable at a time when we are having to take difficult decisions at national level to control public expenditure," the draft letter, seen by EUobserver, reads.

"The Council has proposed an increse in EU budget spending of 2.91 percent for 2011. We are clear that we cannot accept any more than this."

Even if the final figure falls around three percent, EU leaders may subsequently decide in mid-2011 to "supplement" the spending up to 3.5 or four percent more, as it was the case this year.

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