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'It might be a late night': EU leaders bunker down for budget talks

European Council president Herman van Rompuy hasn’t yet found common ground on a seven-year EU Budget.

Enda Kenny admitted it
Enda Kenny admitted it "may be a late night" as European leaders struggle to reach a compromise on a new seven-year EU budget.
Image: European Council screengrab

THE POLITICAL LEADERS of all 27 European Union member states are in Brussels tonight for a summit aimed at agreeing a new seven-year budget for the EU – with little immediate prospect of a compromise.

The European Council summit is to solely discuss a ‘Multi-annual Financial Framework’ – the formal name for the EU’s seven-year budgets, the next of which is due to take effect from 2014 – with the outcome critical for Ireland’s EU presidency.

As the President of the Council of the European Union, it is up to Ireland to work with MEPs to decide how EU funds will be allocated between institutions – but no work can begin if the EU leaders do not agree the basic framework first.

“Ireland holding the Presidency can only have a mandate to work with the Parliament if the Council actually agree on a figure,” Taoiseach Enda Kenny told reporters as he arrived for the two-day talks.

“It might be a late night,” he conceded, adding: “It wouldn’t be in Europe’s interest not to be able to come to a conclusion on that.”

In a press conference held as talks began, European Parliament president Martin Schulz said his European Council counterpart Herman van Rompuy had proposed a plan to allocate €960 billion of spending over the next seven years – but which only accounted for how €910 billion would be raised.

Schulz described this proposal as a “deficit budget” and said he would refuse to support any such deal, even if it was ultimately approved by the EU leaders.

Rocky road to Brussels

In a key indication of the differences that remain between leaders, David Cameron and Francois Hollande – who are on opposing sides of the talks, with Cameron demanding cuts to spending and Hollande wanting more money to safeguard grants for farmers – did not even meet for pre-summit talks as planned.

While the two were meant to hold a bilateral meeting before the summit began, hoping to find some common ground, the leaders ended up not meeting – with each instead spending the hours before the summit holding meetings with their own allies.

Both Cameron and his Czech counterpart Petr Necas have threatened to veto any budget they cannot support. Cameron said the numbers presented by Van Rompuy in November, which covered spending of €973 billion, were “much too high”.

“They need to come down — and if they don’t come down, there won’t be a deal,” Cameron added.

The summit began six hours late as a result of the bilateral meetings, which did not appear to offer any fresh hope for an immediate compromise. Van Rompuy himself spent most of the time in a meeting with Angela Merkel.

The delays meant Enda Kenny’s absence – as he was delayed finalising the deal on the promissory notes – did not see him miss any of the summit itself.

Ireland shares France’s view that the EU Budget needs to be increased, or least maintained, in order to allow sufficient spending on agriculture and investment.

Read: What’s on the table for the 2014-2020 EU budget?

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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