The Brief: MEPs demand death of EU budget rebates

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

By James Crisp

Brexit is a chance for the EU to slam shut the door on any other member states negotiating EU budget rebates, MEPs said, as the European Parliament fired its opening salvo in tough negotiations over  next year’s EU budget spending.

Siegfried Muresan is a vice-chair of the Parliament’s Budget Committee and the lead centre-right MEP on a draft own-initiative report on the budget.  He spoke to Sarantis Michalopoulos about his plans.

The paper rang a death knell on any future rebates for member states, such as that negotiated for Britain by Margaret Thatcher.  That rebate also involved some money going back to Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Sweden.

“[This] should end, as it has been shown by the report that all member states benefit from the EU budget”, the report said, after declaring that Brexit was an “opportunity” to change the “juste retour” from 2020 on. Similar calls were made by Mario Monti’s “high level group on own resources”.

The draft report is an attempt to put pressure on the European Commission. It will be the Commission that ultimately puts forward spending plans to be approved by the Council and MEPs but it must take note of Muresan’s report.

There is still some ways to go before the rebates are finally buried.  But it’s clear that some in Brussels are intent on tidying up Britain’s special arrangements like it was a particularly messy houseguest.

The report strongly backs increased cooperation on defence research between member states. This idea sparks wild debate about the creation of an EU army, which the UK believes would undermine NATO.

Creating an EU army would likely require changing the bloc’s treaties, a long and difficult process, but supporters are keen to get the building blocks in place if the idea ever gets off the ground.

The Lisbon Treaty does allow the creation of EU “combat units” if a member state comes under attack but that has never happened.

The Brief was not a fan of the plan to give 18-year-olds a birthday present of a free Interrail ticket, which was, in some ways, a reaction to Brexit.

Championed by European People’s Party chief Manfred Weber, the idea hit the buffers with the Commission, once they realised it could cost €2 billion a year to fund.

But EPP spokesman Muresan wants the plans to go full steam ahead with the cash in place for 2018.

The report said the giveaway “has the potential to become a key component in increasing European consciousness and identity, especially in the face of threats such as populism.”

Spoiling mewling millennials with free holidays paid from the public purse is precisely the kind of policy that “populists” will say proves Brussels is out of touch with reality and that Britain was right to leave the EU.

THE ROUNDUP

Remember when Canada’s trade envoy walked out of the CETA talks in tears because of those troublesome Walloons? It turns out she was shedding crocodile tears.  “We decided it was really important not to be angry walking out, because we wanted to make the Walloons feel guilty,” she said.

Justin Trudeau will be in town next Thursday to ask the European Parliament to ratify the CETA trade deal. He’ll be the first sitting Canadian PM to address the institution.

Migration Commissioner Dmitris Avramopoulos told US Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly in Washington that the EU and US needed to work together to address the migration crisis.

Research Commissioner Carlos Moedas could join the global science march in a snub to Donald Trump. Spain’s Mariano Rajoy has offered to serve as Trump’s bridge between Europe and Latin America.

The UK’s Brexit bill passed through the House of Commons without a single amendment last night. Andrew Duff at the European Policy Centre called it the “emasculation of the Westminster Parliament”.

The bill now faces the obstacle of the House of Lords. Lords have reportedly been told that if it opposes the bill, their very existence will be called into question.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna tabled an amendment calling for the NHS to get the £350m a week that was promised on the big red Brexit bus.  He was furious after Brexiteers like Boris Johnson voted it down.  Scottish National Party MPs are in trouble for singing the EU’s anthem Ode to Joy in the House of Commons.

The Commission is going to be asked to show its working, after discussing how to tot up the UK’s divorce bill. Could Brussels lure London’s starts-up to set up shop in the capital of Europe?

Centre-right MEPs have drafted a paper rejecting Turkey’s bid to join the EU.

Following the EU’s granting of funds to Libya to help manage the migration crisis, the UN’s representative to the war-torn country has called on the member states to reopen their Tripoli embassies.

If you thought Greece’s financial woes were done and dusted then think again. The IMF and the EU are still at odds over how best to deal with it. One German political leader even called for Greece to leave the eurozone.

MEPs passed a crucial vote to give the Commission new powers to police car companies and national authorities–but they rejected a call from left-wing groups to set up a new EU agency. The Greens say an agency would help stop another Dieselgate scandal. Elzbieta Bienkowska, the EU internal market chief, said she’s gearing up to open new legal action against member states that have broken car testing rules.

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