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Testy EU Budget Talks Blocked          02/21 06:18

   Major contributors to the European Union's budget blocked progress at an 
emergency summit on Friday, insisting that they would not stump up more funds 
for the bloc's next long-term spending package, worth around one trillion euros 
($1.1 trillion).

   BRUSSELS (AP) -- Major contributors to the European Union's budget blocked 
progress at an emergency summit on Friday, insisting that they would not stump 
up more funds for the bloc's next long-term spending package, worth around one 
trillion euros ($1.1 trillion).

   The so-called "Frugal Four" of Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden 
believe the EU's 2021-2027 budget, which is meant to fund ambitious climate 
change and digital economy policies, should amount to 1% of the 27-nation 
trading bloc's gross national income.

   EU Council President Charles Michel, who met with EU leaders throughout the 
night trying to broker a compromise, has tabled a draft budget of 1.074% of 
GNI. The European Parliament wants an ambitious 1.3%, while the EU's powerful 
executive arm, the European Commission, prefers 1.11%.

   "I can understand that when you're a prime minister in a country that has 
poor regions, infrastructures, I can understand that ... but when it comes to 
the percentage, I stand firm," Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told 
reporters in Brussels Friday.

   Asked whether the standoff can be resolved, Frederiksen said "no, I don't 
think so. I'm willing to stay, and I'm prepared to stay the whole weekend. But 
no, I don't think we're going to reach an agreement."

   She said that another summit would be required, probably in early March.

   As he left European Union headquarters in the wee hours of Friday morning, 
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters: "I'm going to bed."

   Rutte departed with a biography of Chopin tucked under his arm --- a prop to 
suggest that he would probably be reading rather than talking about softening 
his position. 

   Broadly speaking, the "Frugal Four" with the backing of Germany are lined up 
against the "Friends of Cohesion," a group of mainly central and eastern 
European nations who want to see the continued flow of "cohesion funds" --- 
money earmarked to help develop poorer regions.

   "If we want to find an agreement, I think everybody has to be flexible. It 
cannot be the way that one or some countries try to dictate the outcome," said 
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin. Asked about the chances of a breakthrough, 
she said: "It looks quite difficult, the situation."

   Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel rejected any talk of failure but 
said that "if everybody just calculates what he pays and what he gets then we 
will never come out."

   Bettel underlined the importance of focusing on the advantages that the EU 
brings. "In '57 when we created Europe, we realized maybe sometimes (it's 
better) to give something up or to pay something to have something bigger 
tomorrow."

   After a night of bilateral talks with Michel and in small groups, the 
leaders were set to all meet together again mid-morning Friday. But like much 
about this marathon money summit, nothing can be set in stone, and that timing 
appeared likely to slip.

   What's really at stake is whether the leaders are ready to put their money 
where their mouths are when it comes to European policy ambitions. At the same 
time, amid economic stagnation, they cannot afford to give the impression to 
their home audiences that they are splashing taxpayers' cash.

   With Britain gone from their ranks, the leaders want to prove that Europe 
can still forge ahead toward brighter horizons, but Brexit has left them with a 
sizable budget hole --- about 75 billion euros ($81 billion) over seven years.

   In the great scheme of things this is not a huge amount of money for the 
world's biggest trading bloc. Even if a trillion euros sounds like a lot, it 
actually amounts to about 1% of the gross national income of the 27 nations 
combined.

   The budget is also made up of customs revenue and income from fines levied 
by the commission, and the EU's executive arm has raked in plenty of those from 
antitrust cases involving tech firms and others in recent years. 

   So no country even pays 1% of its own GNI, and the debate is over some 0.3 
percentage points.

   But it's not just about convincing reluctant member countries to stump up 
funds. The parliament must also ratify any final budget agreement and for the 
moment EU lawmakers are far from happy.

   "At the moment, we remain 230 billion euros ($248 billion) apart," European 
Parliament President David Sassoli said this week. 


(KR)

 
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