Tags: EU | Budget | summit | delay

Start of EU Budget Summit Delayed as Stand-Off Emerges

Thursday, 07 Feb 2013 01:20 PM


Officials delayed the start of a summit to negotiate the European Union's next long-term budget on Thursday, with stark differences emerging between key countries and Ireland's prime minister still on his way to the venue.

In a message sent on Twitter, the European Council, which organizes summits of EU heads of state and government, said the start of the meeting had been put back until 2030 (1930 GMT). It was originally scheduled to start at 1500.

Ahead of the talks, British Prime Minister David Cameron held a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso.

Cameron then met with the prime ministers of Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands, who share many of his positions on the need for deep cost-cutting in the seven-year spending framework.

Diplomats indicated that Cameron had presented stiff demands about how much should be cut from the existing proposal, complicating efforts by Van Rompuy to forge a compromise to put before all 27 EU leaders.

At the last attempt to strike a deal in November, Van Rompuy knocked 80 billion euros off the European Commission's plan, bringing the headline figure for spending from 2014-2020 down to 972 billion euros. But it was not sufficient for Britain and other countries, prompting the need for a second round.

No new figures have been formally provided by Van Rompuy, but diplomats and some ministers have said he wants to knock a further 15-20 billion euros off the headline number, bringing it down to around 957 billion.

That still does not appear sufficient to satisfy Britain or some other member states, while being too deep a cut for France, Italy, Poland and other southern and eastern European states, diplomats said.

Further complicating the process is the fact that some countries focus on different ways of measuring the budget, which is calculated in two ways: payments and commitments.

Commitments are maximum amounts set aside for projects and programs, whereas payments are the amounts that actually get paid. As a result, payments are always lower, and they are the figures that Britain, the Netherlands and others focus on.

But the headline number the European Commission and Van Rompuy use - the starting point of 972 billion - is a commitments figure. France, Italy and most other countries prefer to deal in commitments.

Ahead of the summit it was thought that a compromise might be possible in the gap between the two, with payments being brought down to around 910 billion from 942 billion at the November summit, while commitments are reduced less sharply.

But the preliminary discussions ahead of the summit would appear to indicate that such an accounting ruse may not work.

Another problem delaying proceedings is the absence of Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who was in parliament until the early hours getting a vote passed on a bank debt deal, and only set off for Brussels in the afternoon.

© 2015 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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