They were so proud of their unity. But only three weeks after Brexit, masks are falling in Brussels. At the first EU budget summit, which failed, everyone was fighting for themselves, even the Benelux countries were divided.
It is the first time that the 27 EU heads of state and government have met after Brexit. At last they are talking about the new course they want to take after the British withdrawal.
But even the first interventions at the special summit on the EU budget, called by Council president Charles Michel, make it clear that the unity is gone.
“We are not yet satisfied”, explains Chancellor Angela Merkel on her arrival at the Brussels Council building. Among the net contributors, “the balance has not yet been worked out properly”, Merkel warns.
It is a side blow to France’s head of state Emmanuel Macron. He is satisfied with Michel’s draft, because France – a net contributor like Germany – is doing quite well.
But Macron also demands improvements. There must be more money for the farmers, but also for armaments or the “digital Europe”.
But Merkel and Macron are not the only ones who are crossed. The Benelux countries are also deeply divided. Luxembourg’s head of government Xavier Bettel is eager to spend more.
“We paid more for roaming a few years ago than we pay for Europe,” he says at the beginning of the meeting, as it could take until Saturday. One should not save money in the wrong place, for example in administration.
Mark Rutte, his Dutch counterpart, sounds completely different. “The proposal is really not good,” says the liberal politician from The Hague on arrival in Brussels.
In his mind, Michel wants to spend too much money and make the net contributors pay too much. The draft envisages an EU budget of 1.074 percent of economic output. However, Rutte wants to pay only 1.0 percent.
Net payers haggle over 0.074 percentage points
They argue by 0.074 percentage points – and the European Parliament is demanding even more: 1.3 percent. There is a gap of around 300 billion euros between these figures for the next seven years.
How this gap can be bridged – and what the money is to be spent on – is what the dispute is about. At least superficially.
In reality, however, it is about the future viability, if not the survival of the Union. Merkel calls for more “modernity”, which means cuts in agricultural subsidies and structural aid.
More “sovereignty”, on the other hand, is what Macron wants, which he also translates as “sovereign food supply” – meaning more money for farmers and a “green” agricultural industry.
The European Parliament, on the other hand, wants more money for the “Green Deal” proposed by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
The distinction between net contributors, i.e. donors, and recipients is outdated, warns Parliament’s President David Sassoli at the first major round table on Thursday evening.
“All members benefit from the EU,” Sassoli stresses.
The problem is that the heads of state and government don’t want to see it that way. Everyone is fighting for themselves, the unity is gone…
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version) The original post (in German) is here