THE LEADERS of all 27 European Union countries have agreed the basic terms of a budget for the European Union, securing its finances for the rest of the decade.
The heads of government and the European Council president Herman van Rompuy struck a deal this afternoon following all-night talks which themselves followed hours of bilateral meetings between rival factions of leaders.
“Deal done!” announced Van Rompuy on Twitter, describing the agreement as “worth waiting for”. He later told a press conference that the Budget was “balanced and growth-oriented”.
The agreement ends months of dispute about the extent to which the EU can spend over the rest of the decade, by finalising the ‘bottom lines’ of European budgets each year between 2014 and 2020.
The deal set a ceilings of €960 billion in total spending over that seven-year period – the smallest amount that France was willing to sanction, hoping to safeguard funding for the Common Agricultural Policy, but also the most that the UK would accept as it fights for a downsized EU.
The two-day summit to agree the deal – the second attempt at agreeing a ‘multi-annual financial framework’ in three months – had been preceded by hours of crucial talks between various EU leaders who were hoping to find common ground before Van Rompuy tabled his proposals.
The prospect of agreement seemed as far away as ever, however, when a planned meeting of French president Francois Hollande and British prime minister David Cameron failed to materalise – after each spent the afternoon meeting their own allies instead.
The deal is particularly important to Ireland, as it is now up to the Irish government – holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU – to finalise the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the Budget and apportion spending to every individual EU institution, in partnership with the European Parliament.
This lengthy process is unlikely to be finished within Ireland’s tenure, given the wide range of opinions among MEPs about whether spending should be cut – and have Brussels share the austerity that other governments have faced – or increased, with a renewed focus on economic stimulus and job creation.
The Parliament’s president Martin Schulz earlier said that it could be difficult – if not impossible – to find a majority of MEPs in favour of the “common denominator”. The Parliament’s liberal bloc has said it will probably oppose it.
Former British prime minister Tony Blair had described the last round of EU budget talks, in late 2005, as the toughest of his career. In that instance, the UK held the EU presidency – meaning, in the pre-Lisbon era, it was up to the head of government of that country to finalise a deal.
Herman van Rompuy has been the only occupant of the permanent position created by the Lisbon Treaty, and will hold the role until November 2014.