In Portugal, 15 ‘cohesion countries’ call for stronger EU budget

Croatia and Italy did not sign the common declaration for different reasons. [EPA/ NUNO VEIGA]

Fifteen EU member states insisted on Saturday (1 February) that the EU budget for 2021-2027 should maintain the level of the previous one “in real terms”. EURACTIV’s partner Lusa reports.

At the invitation of Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, the largest beneficiaries of “cohesion funds” aimed at poorer EU member states, met last Saturday in Beja, south Portugal.

The countries reaffirmed their opposition to proposed cuts in the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021-2027, stressing the importance of cohesion policy to achieve economic and social convergence among EU member states.

“Cohesion policy funding for 2021-2027 should maintain the level of the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework in real terms. No member state should suffer a sharp and disproportionate reduction in its cohesion budget,” reads the final declaration of the Friends of Cohesion.  

“Appropriate conditions of implementation are decisive for the success of policies and have no impact on the European budget,” added the 15 representatives of southern and eastern EU countries.

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The Beja summit Joint Declaration was signed by 15 of the 17 “Friends of Cohesion”: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.

“Co-financing should remain at current rates; pre-financing should remain at sufficiently high levels and no abrupt change should be made to the cancellation rule,” they added, saying those principles “ensure an efficient and effective use of cohesion funds without putting an extra burden on national budgets”. 

The 15 countries also pushed for increased flexibility in regional development funds to “encourage coherence between EU requirements and the different circumstances of member states”. According to them, this will allow each country to better respond to investment needs and challenges such as climate change.

Yet, they insisted that new instruments such as the Budgetary Instrument for Convergence and Competitiveness, the Convergence and Reform Instrument and the Just Transition Fund were established to serve specific objectives. Their financing must, therefore, come in addition to EU regional funding and not come “at the expense of Cohesion Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy”. 

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The European Commission will play a key role in deciding what reforms and investments are supported by a new financial instrument expected to be in place in 2021, whose amount is yet to be decided by the member states as part of the negotiations on the EU’s long-term budget (MFF).

The Friends of Cohesion also called for a simpler and fairer system of “own resource”s to finance the EU budget and the abolition of all rebates from the start of the next MFF in 2021.

Negotiations on the EU’s next long-term budget are expected to heat up this month ahead of an extraordinary EU summit on 20 February specifically dedicated to the topic.  

Europe is divided into two camps: the net contributors who do not want to contribute more than 1% of Gross National Income (GNI) to the EU budget, and the “Friends of Cohesion”, who reject cuts in regional funds and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) said in a radio interview on Saturday (1 February) that Austria would veto the current MFF proposal, saying it was “unacceptable” for Austria to pay more than 1% of its GDP. (The current draft would increase contributions to 1.1%).  

Kurz said that four other net contributors – Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark – share this stance and would also veto the current proposal.

The Commission’s proposal is based on a budget commitment of €373 billion for cohesion and agricultural policy, a 10% reduction on the current budget due to the withdrawal of the UK, and a focus on new priorities such as fighting climate change, digital, defence and security.

Croatia, represented in Beja by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, did not sign the declaration as the country is currently holding the rotating presidency of the EU Council and has to preserve a neutral stance.

Italy, represented by the Minister of European Affairs Vicenzo Amendola, did not sign the declaration either because it is not in the same circumstances as the other member states, according to a Portuguese government source.

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[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos and Frédéric Simon]

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