The Brief – Run, MFF, run

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

Optimism is a moral duty, Commissioners and MEPs believe. Or at least that would be the conclusion looking at the Commission and Parliament’s intention to reach an agreement on the next multiannual financial framework, the EU’s long-term budget, in a record time of less than a year.

But EU leaders and European Council President Donald Tusk will recommend legislators and Eurocrats this Friday to come down to ‘planet Europe’, where MFF agreements are reached in the extended time.

Member states have to bring together national priorities, paid with limited resources, in a face-saving agreement for everybody in front of their voters.

To make things worse, the next MFF (2020-2027) would come with a gaping hole of around €12 billion annually left by Brexit. The UK’s departure from the bloc comes as the Union has to deal with more priorities, chief among them migration, security, digital transformation and Erasmus.

Considering that the last MFF took 29 months to be sealed – in more benign conditions – it seems “quite optimistic”, as an EU official said, to cut the calendar by a third just to deliver the post-Brexit draft budget before the European elections, expected to be held in late May 2019.

The calendar will be one of the points EU leaders will discuss during the extraordinary summit this Friday. But the process depends on two additional questions Tusk addressed to the heads of state or government in order to prepare the debate: the size of the MFF and its priorities.

Given that this European Council is part of the leaders’ agenda format recently launched by Tusk, there won’t be conclusions after the summit. The European Council chief and Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will just summarise the discussion at the end of the day.

As this will be the first discussion among EU leaders on the next MFF, Tusk wants a ‘brainstorming’ session to hear the views around the table. It boils down to finding out whether member states are ready to contribute additional funds, given the decreasing revenues and increasing priorities, and identifying  the ‘sacred cows’ of each government.

Numbers and budget lines may sound boring. But this edition of MFF summits (Friday’s is just an appetiser) will be rather the Mayweather vs McGregor version of EU affairs.

The Netherlands, Austria and Sweden already said “no, no, no” to fresh contributions and want to refocus on priorities like migration, security and research. Finland, a country aligned with these member states on other economic issues, is ready to discuss additional contributions, its finance minister said today.

In the opposite camp, Hungary and Poland (seen as the EU troublemakers in migration and the rule of law) and a few others want more money and unchanged expenditure on big envelopes like cohesion funds.

Spain and France also defend a bigger budget and a strong support for farmers, the other big envelope of the EU pot. Meanwhile, everybody agrees that there are more priorities on the EU’s plate but few seem to feel comfortable with the Commission’s proposals to siphon national resources.

Friday’s first round will serve to see the countries’ position in the ring so don’t expect a lot of blood and fury… yet.

But as the debate drags on in parallel with the difficult negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship, the next 18 months are heading towards a bruising combat in which capitals will fight for national interests over EU common goal.

Germany’s declared intention to contribute more money to the next MFF may release some of the steam. But the largest contributor’s gesture will not be enough if decreasing commonality continues to reign supreme.

The Roundup

Jean-Claude Juncker warned Theresa May not to make Brexit talks even more complicated by demanding a defence and security treaty before leaving the EU. It’s a summit week and cracks continue to appear in the much-vaunted post-Brexit united front.

Germany’s carmakers will be on the edge of their seats as a Dusseldorf court decides on a case that could allow cities to ban diesel cars. Rome has been given 60 days to clean up its air or face legal action.

Women’s rights in Latin America still lag behind other parts of the world. Check out these pictures of a haunting protest in Zagreb, calling for Croatia to ratify the Istanbul Convention. Turkey’s persecution of journalists continues to draw heavy criticism.

Latvia’s main banker was arrested by anti-corruption officials, while the ECB is on the verge of naming a new vice-president: Spaniard Luis De Guindos.

Election-watch: the Czech Republic is a step closer to a new government, the far-right AfD has clawed its way into second place in Germany according to one poll and irrelevant British political force UKIP has a new leader. Again.

The Commission isn’t exactly known for its social media prowess but help may be at hand. And well done to the bright spark who spotted the flaw with the new EU flags in Schuman metro.

Look out for…

Poland vs the Commission at the ECJ over alleged illegal logging in protected woodland. Judges are expected to throw the book at Warsaw but at least Polish citizens are “getting happier and happier“.

Views are the author’s

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