Negotiations over the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2014-2020 are likely to spread until at least October next year, paving the way for the full-time president of the European Council to preside the talks and for Herman Van Rompuy to be reconfirmed in his role at the end of his first mandate, next May.
The timing in the fraught MFF negotiation would also pave the way for Van Rompuy to seek renewal of his term as president – which expires mid-way through next year – as a broker representing the interests of smaller member states in the budget talks, some EU sources said.
A conference organised by the Polish presidency, the European Parliament and the Commission in Brussels last week (20 and 21 October) heard broad stakeholder support for the Commission’s MFF proposal of €1 trillion for the period 2014-2020 .
MFF is always a tough nut to crack
However, there were also clear indications that the negotiations over the next EU budget will be protracted and difficult, and will probably lead well into next autumn.
The objective of the event was to enable national parliaments to engage in a debate with EU institutions over the next MFF.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told the conference that there was scope for at least two more conferences to be staged, one in six months, and another next autumn indicating that agreement will not have been reached by then.
Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski told delegates that difficult issues remained for negotiation, such as the Commission’s proposed financial transaction tax, opposed by the UK.
One European minister told EURACTIV that the scope for an early agreement next year was very limited. He said that there was ‘no chance’ of an agreement before the conclusion of French presidential and legislative elections – scheduled for May 2012.
It is more likely that the horse-trading will flow at least into the autumn, he said.
A source close to the Council said: “We are expecting that Van Rompuy will start to get busy on mediating the MFF next autumn. It will be the first time that the European Council will have impartial chairmanship during the complicated budget deal.”
Van Rompuy rolling up his sleeves
Delayed budget negotiations are likely to boost the re-appointment chances of President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, whose term expires at the end of May 2012.
At the time when Van Rompuy’s term expires, as the European Council moves from the presidency of one smaller member state (Denmark) to an even smaller one (Cyprus), Van Rompuy will be able to tout for re-appointment on the basis of being an honest broker for the smaller member states, since he himself is from Belgium, in advance of taking over as the mediator in the negotiations.
This would be the first time that a non-member state-led Council president would preside over the budget negotiations – the last MFF negotiation was chaired in the European Council by the UK-presidency under former prime minister Tony Blair.