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22nd Feb 2024

Brussels offers interest-free delays for EU budget top-ups

  • How much Dijsselbloem (r) know about the forthcoming EU bill - Dutch MPs are keen to question him (Photo: "The Council of the European Union")

EU budget commissioner Kristalina Georgieva announced on Wednesday (12 November) a proposal which will allow countries like the UK and the Netherlands more time to pay their EU bills.

The proposal will give them more flexibility on top-up contributions which result from adjustments of their gross national income (GNI).

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The Netherlands and the UK were hit with an "unprecedented" adjustment of their EU payments.

The total amount of budget corrections were as high as €9.5 billion, with The Hague getting the proportionally biggest bill and London getting the outright largest at €2.1bn.

“For some member states the relative weight of this adjustment, the absolute amount, so close to the end of the year, present a challenge to national treasuries”, Georgieva said.

Member states asked the commission last week to permanently change the rules regarding budget corrections, which Georgieva presented on Wednesday.

The new rules provide “an extended deadline for payment until 1 September of the next year, interest free, under exceptional circumstances”.

An individual member state experiences an “exceptional circumstance” if its top-up payment is more than double its monthly payment to the EU budget.

The extended deadline applies to all member states if the total corrections are more than half of their combined monthly contribution to the EU.

Member states that opt for an extended deadline are required to send the commission a payment schedule. While they don't have to pay interest if they pay on the date or dates as promised, there will be penalties if they miss their own deadlines “to encourage member states to stick to the schedule”.

In order for the new rules to come into effect on time, they need to be approved by the member states. A legal opinion from the European Parliament and the European Court of Auditors is also required.

All this needs to happen in the next 18 days.

If the rules are not changed before 1 December, the old ones still apply, which means that countries that have not paid their bills will be faced with interest charges.

Meanwhile, Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem will have to explain to the Dutch parliament on Thursday (13 November) how much he knew about the surcharge and when.

Some Dutch MPs are accusing him of knowing about the bill - €642m – for weeks as it was discussed at a technical level by member state representatives in October.

Eurostat officials have emphasized that no national representatives complained about the recalculations at the time.

“Each member state first confirms that the data for its own country are correct”, said Silke Stapel-Weber, Eurostat director of National accounts told a hearing in Dutch parliament on Wednesday.

“We go around the table, we ask every member state. They have the opportunity to say: no, that can't be right”, said James Whitworth, of Eurostat's "statistics for administrative purposes" unit.

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