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'We can't accept it': The EU budget summit has ended without agreement

Leo Varadkar had said that the budget proposal as it stood was “not something [Ireland] can accept”.

Updated Feb 21st 2020, 7:52 PM

belgium-europe-budget Source: Olivier Matthys

A MARATHON EU summit to set the bloc’s next seven-year budget has ended in impasse after the 27 member countries failed to find common ground.

Differences were “still too great to reach an agreement,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters at the end of the two days of talks.

She said no date had yet been set for another summit to try again, but added “we are going to have to return to the subject” of the budget, the multiannual financial framework, that is meant to be operational from next year.

“Unfortunately we have observed it was not possible to reach an agreement, we observed we need more time,” said European Council President Charles Michel, who had called the extraordinary summit.

Michel was speaking at a separate briefing alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The summit revealed stubborn differences between a handful of wealthy “frugal” states and a larger group wanting more money to meet big European ambitions on top of covering a budget shortfall left by Brexit.

Brexit has left the EU with a sizeable budget hole – about €75 billion over seven years. 

Von der Leyen said the disagreement was a sign of EU “democracy”.

“It’s worth it to work hard to move forward,” she said.

special-european-council-meeting-in-brussels Leo Varadkar speaks to media today. Source: DPA/PA Images

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gave this statement after the summit concluded:

I very clearly outlined the position of Ireland which is that as a wealthy prosperous economically successful European country we are willing to contribute more to the budget over the next seven years, but not if that meant payments to Irish farmers and important programmes like regional development, social development and Interreg were cut back.

“These programmes, particularly the Common Agricultural Policy, are essential for the incomes of farmers, also for the rural economy, for regional development.

“And if we’re going to be asking farmers and the agri-food sector to do more to combat climate change we can’t at the same time expect them to accept being paid less.”

He said that the matter would be revisited in a few weeks’ time.

belgium-europe-budget Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen speak to the press after the EU summit. Source: Virginia Mayo

Earlier today, Varadkar had said that the EU budget proposal as it currently stands is one that Ireland cannot accept. Varadkar had met with Charles Michel and von der Leyen at 2am last night. 

 ”The proposal on the table is one we can’t accept.

“Essentially it means Ireland will contribute much more to the EU budget but we’ll actually receive less back in terms of payments to Irish farmers and also funds for regional development and social development.

“We accept that as a country that has a growing economy as a country that has full employment, that we will have to pay more into the European budget over the next seven years. What we can’t accept is that in return for paying more in, we would see a very significant cuts to CAP and to cohesion funds,” he said. 

“That’s not something we can accept and I made that very clear,” added Varadkar, stating that on that basis he doesn’t believe there will be an agreement on an EU-wide budget today. 

Asked about the so-called ‘Frugal Four’ – Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and Denmark – who don’t want any increase in the EU budget, Varadkar said they were holding their position “very hard”.

belgium-europe-budget Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, centre, speaks with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, left, and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Source: YVES HERMAN

He said he understood where they were coming from but he did not agree with their position.

“If we’re serious about supporting agriculture across the European Union, about building up the economies of central and eastern Europe, about dealing with security threats and climate action, that’s going to cost money, and that’s why Ireland is one of the countries that is willing to contribute more to the EU budget as a wealthy country with a growing economy,” he said. 

- with reporting from AFP

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