Commission to organise EU budget conference

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Brussels will host a high-level conference in late October devoted to the EU's next long-term budget for 2014-2020, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso announced today (30 August) after a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

Appearing before the Brussels press alongside Tusk, Barroso said the main topic of discussion at the meeting had been the so-called 'multi-annual financial framework (MFF' – the EU's next long-term budget for 2014-2020.

The two leaders are known advocates of a strong budget, with Poland eyeing a bigger share of EU spending for its poorer regions.

Both men sought to counter the impression that the ongoing debt crisis in the euro zone had left EU leaders with no appetite for discussing the divisive budget issue.

Barroso admitted that the Commission's budget proposal, presented at an informal ministerial meeting in the Polish city of Sopot on 29 June, had not won consensual support.

"Of course there was not unanimous agreement, frankly, but I wasn't expecting there to be," he said.

Indeed, the Commission proposal is seen as the starting point of what promises to be drawn-out negotiations, with a final decision not expected before the second half of 2012.

"Let's make it a good example of European spirit, to have focused discussions on the MFF, not as discussions for Brussels, but for the budget for the whole of Europe: how we can with European tools help growth in Europe – this is the basic line," Barroso said.

Building a 'positive-thinking majority'

Tusk said that in his view, discussions at the Sopot meeting had been more positive than expected. He said he was "cautiously optimistic" about future EU policies under the next budget.

The Polish EU Presidency's task, meanwhile, was to make sure that "a positive-thinking majority" was in place for the latter stages of the debate, he said.

The Polish prime minister sought to illustrate the view that EU funding can boost economic growth by pointing to a map of Poland carrying the country's latest GDP growth figure – 4.3% – alongside a smiley face.

Both leaders confirmed that a high-level conference on the EU budget would be held in Brussels on 20-21 October, and both promised to contribute to the forum.

The conference will be co-hosted by the European Commission and the European Parliament, and co-organised by the Polish EU Presidency, Tusk said.

"This will be a political conference that will deal with the whole philosophy of the European Community," Tusk said, refusing to go into further details about the forum's mandate. According to insiders, the forum will aim to forge consensus on some issues but is not expected to take major decisions.

In fact, Barroso appears to have embraced an idea first developed by Tusk himself, who said in early July that such a conference would need to address "how much Community" and "how much of the national dispute" should be reflected in the EU budget. At the time, it was assumed that the conference would be hosted by Warsaw.

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