A summit to secure the EU’s long-term budget seemed in danger of ending in failure after less than a day of talks, with leaders miles away on how to fill the € 75 billion (£ 63 billion) hole left from Brexit.
While sources predicted a potential early shutdown in Brussels, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, has been criticized for aiming “too high” with a proposed budget of 1.074% of the block’s gross national income (1.094 million EUR).
An EU diplomat said on Friday morning: “He wanted enough money to buy a Range Rover; we only have the money for a Volkswagen – and worse, he asked Mutti [the German chancellor, Angela Merkel] to pay for the Range Rover. “
EU officials insisted that the negotiations continue as leaders prepared to meet again at noon in Central Europe. But the Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, told reporters when she arrived that it seemed unlikely that EU leaders would reach a final budget deal at the summit.
“I am ready to stay all weekend, but no, I don’t think we will reach an agreement,” he said, adding that leaders would probably need another meeting in March.
The 27 heads of state and government were expected to speak at least until Saturday, and perhaps over the weekend, on the financial framework, establishing funding from 2021 to 2027 for EU programs from agriculture to space, defense and regional development.
Sources said that this situation was likely to end late Friday afternoon if Michel had not made a significantly modified proposal.
The self-produced “frugals” – the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and Denmark – insist on a budget of no more than 1% of the EU’s gross national income and on keeping their discounts.
On Thursday, the first evening of the summit, Merkel had joined the group of leaders insisting that Germany would also maintain its full discount for the seven-year period.
Arriving at the summit on Friday morning, Andrej Babiš said that unless those leaders have changed their minds, “we can go straight home”. The Czech Prime Minister said: “They propose that all states pay € 75 billion less than proposed in the budget.”
Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, led the accusation by the frugal states against the more expansive demands of the so-called “friends of cohesion” group, which are the main recipients of funds for the development of the poorest EU countries.
The Netherlands argues that Michel’s proposal would increase his contributions by 20%.
Emmanuel Macron had appealed to fellow leaders not to allow Brexit to derail EU spending ambitions, as it aimed to guarantee extra money for French farmers.