Leaders of the “Friends of Cohesion” group gathered in Bratislava on Friday (5 October) to discuss tactics ahead of the battle for the EU budget. Commission President José Manuel Barroso said the “Friends of Cohesion” should join the “Friends of Better Spending” in what he called “The Friends of Growth”. EurActiv Slovakia contributed to this article.

The prime ministers and representatives of the "Friends of Cohesion“ met in Bratislava to make their case for preserving the cohesion funds in the next long-term EU budget for 2014-2020. Barroso and European Parliament President Martin Schulz attended the meeting.

The member states were represented by the prime ministers of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia (which is due to join the EU on 1 July 2013), Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Slovenia. Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania, Malta and Spain sent other representatives.

The Commission president said leaders should have no illusions, and that “tough debates lie ahead”, before the budget would be agreed. An extraordinary EU summit on 22-23 November will discuss for the first time tentative figures, on the basis of a “negotiating box” recently presented by the Cyprus EU presidency. Another EU summit on 13 December is expected to take the final decisions.

Barroso said that the Commission remained fully committed to an effective cohesion policy, but added that the concerns of other member states on “better spending” should also be treated seriously. The so-called group of “better spending” comprises net contributors to the EU budget such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, UK, Austria, Sweden.

Germany for one has recently tabled a blueprint for “better spending”, which raised eyebrows among many countries’ representatives.

Barroso said that the new conditions under “better spending” would in fact help the implementation of investments under the cohesion policy. The Commission will continue to defend its budget proposal, presented on 29 June 2011, and that the sides had to “resist the forces of division,” he argued.

“That is why I want to make an appeal. The appeal is the following: that the friends of cohesion and the friends of better spending join what I could call the Friends of Growth. I am a friend of growth,” Barroso said.

Martin Schulz admitted that his position was easier, because the most of the political parties in European Parliament hold the line represented by the Friends of Cohesion group. In fact, the Parliament appears quite united with the Commission on the issue of the 2014-2020 budget, called in EU jargon multi-annual financial framework, or MFF.

"The multi–annual Financial Framework must lead to a fair deal, it means that we need pragmatic approach, not an ideological one,“  Schulz told reporters at the press conference.

Schulz agrees, that the European budget is the “best instrument to stabilise countries and regain economic growth and employment“.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico also advocated for a strong cohesion budget.

“As much as 76% of all investments in Slovakia are coming from EU funds. They are indispensable resources for us,” Fico said.

The leaders gathered in Bratislava agreed on a joint declaration, supported by both president of the European Commission and the president of the European Parliament.