Monday

21st Sep 2020

Deal on EU budget in doubt

A tentative agreement on the EU's long term budget (2014-2020) has been thrown into doubt less than 12 hours after it was supposedly agreed, as MEPs line up to suggest that the Irish EU presidency has overplayed its hand.

No sooner had Irish deputy prime minister Eamon Gilmore released a statement saying that negotiations had been "concluded" were MEPs rushing to twitter and their press offices to denounce what they saw as an attempt to steamroller them into a deal.

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Reimer Boege, a German centre-right deputy on the parliament's negotiating team, went so far as to resign.

He issued a statement early on Thursday morning (20 June) referring to an "alleged agreement" and said he could not offer his "binding support for, let alone defence of, the present texts."

"That is why I decided to lay down my post as rapporteur for the multi-annual financial framework, a position I held since 2004," he said.

Austrian Socialist MEP Hannes Swoboda referred to "blackmail" by the EU presidency, representing member states, and said there had not been enough progress on one of the MEPs' key demands - flexibility to allow unspent money to be used elsewhere rather than flowing back to member states.

Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian liberal MEP, said "there is still no agreement" and criticised the scope of the proposed budget revision clause, saying parliament does not want to be locked into a "straitjacket."

Negotiations were carried out with the Irish presidency and the parliament's main budget MEPs, including the lead negotiator Alain Lamassoure, a French centre-right deputy.

Ireland's Gilmore was careful to say that the agreement had been reached with Lamassoure.

"It's he who reached agreement with the Irish presidency last night," said one contact. "It's up to him to go and present to the rest of MEPs now."

Ivailo Kalfin, a Bulgarian Socialist and one of the negotiators present at the lengthy talks on Wednesday, told this website that “at one point” the Irish presidency said it “could go no further.”

“What was on the table was also beyond our mandate,” said Kalfin. He added that Lamassoure was of the “personal opinion” that the compromise should be accepted.

Lamassoure, for his part, was careful in how he presented the deal.

He told AFP that "certain members of the European parliament's delegation have serious reservations, so that is why I could not give the agreement of the whole parliament."

Matters are set to come to a head next Tuesday (25 June). By then political groups are to decide whether to give the green light to the compromise and put it on the voting agenda for plenary in July - where a majority (375) of MEPs have to give their consent.

Gilmore wants an answer before he presents the deal to his counterparts at a meeting in Luxembourg.

Kalfin, for his part, said he was “unsure” whether the socialists will be able to decide by then.

MEPs' chief complaints - aside from arguing that the overall sum of €960 billion is too small - is that the budget is too inflexible and focused on the wrong policy areas.

One contact noted that it was difficult to tell how MEPs will vote: "After all my years here, I find it difficult to read the parliament. There are so many different groups and issues involved."

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