Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

Interview

Regions chief: calls for smaller EU budget are 'impossible'

  • President of the Committee of the Regions, Karl-Heinz Lambertz (r) with European Council president Donald Tusk last October (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The EU's most senior official representing regional governments lashed out on Friday (23 February) against member states that want the EU budget to shrink after Brexit.

"European finance must be on the level of the ambition we have," said Karl-Heinz Lambertz, president of the Committee of the Regions.

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"After Britain leaves, we have more ambitions than before. Or did I not understand what was said in Bratislava?," said Lambertz, referring to the Slovak capital where, in 2016, leaders of the 27 EU remaining member states met to revive the European project.

"It was clear, the message of Bratislava – a new elan for Europe. You cannot do it without money," he said.

Lambertz spoke to EUobserver in his office in Brussels, a stone's throw away from the building where the 27 leaders were meeting on Friday to kick-start the discussion about the EU's next budgetary period (2021-2027).

Some member states, like the Netherlands and Austria, want a smaller EU budget, a stance which Lambertz called an "impossible position".

Earlier this week, he sent a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk – who is chairing Friday's summit – calling for an "ambitious budget".

He asked for an increase of the budget from 1 percent to 1.3 percent of the EU's gross national income – which is a higher increase than the European Commission had proposed last year (between 1.1 and 1.2 percent).

"We will certainly arrive somewhere between 1.1 and 1.3 [percent]," said Lambertz.

The Belgian added that the increase could not only come from increased direct contributions from member states.

"A European policy must have European resources," he said.

Asked for some examples, he mentioned proposals that have been floated before: a financial transfer tax; a plastics tax; VAT.

"If you agree to [have] own resources, you have enough opportunities to do it," he said.

"I hope that we can make a little step in this direction now, but I am not sure," Lambertz noted.

He criticised that leaders are already drawing red lines on the size of the budget.

To Lambertz, the debate should first focus on what the EU wanted to achieve.

"For me, a summit like this one should be dedicated to such a discussion [on goals], but the reality is a little bit different. Everyone started with the discussion about money [and] net payers," he said.

But Lambertz noted that member states who pay more into the budget than they receive financially should not see themselves as 'net payers' – because the benefit of EU membership is supposed to be about more than just money.

"As long as we are discussing about net payers, it will be a perverse discussion. Because we don't come really to the objectives. We only discuss about cuts and transfers and you are not really discussing about common objectives," he said.

Europe needs cohesion

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the man in charge of the EU institution representing regions, firmly supported the cohesion funds, which are meant to help bring poorer regions closer to the richer ones.

In his letter to Tusk, Lambertz said cohesion policy should "make up more than one third" of the next multi-annual EU budget.

He told EUobserver that to him cohesion policy is an essential part of Europe.

"This diverse Europe needs cohesion," he said.

The key budget issues on EU leaders' table

As EU leaders gather on Friday to start discussing the future of the EU's spending after the UK leaves, major battle lines are already emerging among member states. Here is a look at the key issues.

EU leaders to kick off post-Brexit budget debate

EU-27 leaders will meet on Friday to draw up battle lines and possible fields of compromise over the EU's next seven-year budget - the first one after the UK leaves the bloc.

Baltic states demand bigger EU budget

The leaders of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania say in a joint letter that they are open to talks on creating "new own resources" for a bigger EU budget after the UK leaves the EU.

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EU should ensure sustainable Cohesion Policy

As the EU Council kicks off negotiations over the post-2020 budget, ministers have have an opportunity to create a framework that will unlock innovative financing and scale up the citizen-led clean energy transformation

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