EU budget banter is all the rage it seems. One EU official posted a picture on Twitter of his shirt supply – four, if you’re asking – in anticipation of several hard days of summitry.
Some might say four shirts for a couple of days is a tad over-indulgent – after all, the odd sweat fume never hurt anyone.
What would an onlooker new to the EU bubble make of this madness?
The truth is, never was so much time, effort and sweat wasted for as little as haggling over the seven-year EU budget, aka the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF). Despite the large figures, in relative terms, at almost exactly 1% of the now EU-27’s national income, the EU budget is rather modest.
Yet, getting to the point where heads of government can gather in the Justus Lipsius building to fight over the billions, millions, envelopes and margins has already taken well over a year.
This time seven years ago, David Cameron secured his one, and indeed only, diplomatic triumph in Brussels when, acting as Angela Merkel’s human shield, he beat down spending demands.
Most have blotted those desperately long and tedious nights from their memory. Those who remember sitting at the ring-side point out that the victory was as pyrrhic as they come. Cameron got no credit for it.
For several decades, MFF talks have followed a similar path. This week, France leads the group of Club Med countries in batting to protect payments from the Common Agricultural Policy for their farmers.
Another group called themselves the ‘Friends of Cohesion’ to fight for cash for Europe’s poorest regions, and were then renamed ‘Friends of an ambitious Europe’.
Between them, they fight for the biggest share of the pie, usually at the expense of penny-pinching from the EU’s external spending and administration. Rewind to the long nights and early mornings of late 2012 and early 2013 and the situation was much the same.
One difference is, the country to be blamed for any unpopular decisions is no longer in the room. Despite being the second-largest net contributor, even with its rebate, the UK always found itself portrayed as the boogeyman in the EU budget talks.
This time someone other than David Cameron will have to be the bad guy, although the UK’s absence does make it marginally less unlikely that the remaining EU-27 will be able to agree on other methods, such as a digital or financial transactions tax, to reduce the amount that reluctant national treasuries have to cough up to Brussels each year.
Some diplomats actually claim to enjoy the MFF process. In truth, however, the people who benefit the most from this interminable process are the restaurants and bars within walking distance of the Justus Lipsius
For the rest, the MFF should come with a warning: too much of it is simply not good for anyone’s health.
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Look out for…
…the MFF negotiations to be continued, in one way or another, over the weekend.
Views are the author’s