European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gestures as she arrives for a round table meeting of EU leaders at an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. After almost two years of sparring, the EU will be discussing the bloc's budget to work out Europe's spending plans for the next seven years. (AP Photo/Riccardo Pareggiani, Pool)

Friday dawns at EU HQ but little light shed on budget split

February 21, 2020 - 2:22 am

BRUSSELS (AP) — The sun rose over European Union headquarters Friday after a night of negotiations, but little light was shed on how much closer the bloc’s 27 leaders might have moved toward resolving their standoff over a 1 trillion euros ($1.1 trillion) common budget for the next seven years.

Asked about the state of play as he left the building in Brussels in the wee hours, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said: “I don’t know, we have to wait for tomorrow.”

“I’m going to bed,” Rutte said, as he departed with a biography of Chopin tucked under his arm — a prop to suggest that he, like many other leaders, will not be budging much from his position and is expecting a lot of down time during this extraordinary summit on the EU’s spending package for 2021-2027.

EU Council President Charles Michel, the summit chairman, held individual meetings with each of the 27 leaders overnight, while those waiting met in pairs and small groups as experts crunched the numbers behind the scenes.

At last word, the leaders were set to all meet together again at 11 am (1000 GMT). But like much about this marathon money summit, nothing can be set in stone.

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, like fighting climate change and developing the digital economy. At the same time, they cannot afford to give the impression to their home audiences that they are splashing taxpayers’ cash when economic growth is limited.

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 ($1.1 trillion) sounds like a lot, it actually amounts to about 1% of the gross national income of the 27 nations combined. The debate is over some 0.3 percentage points.

Michel came into the summit with a draft budget at 1.074% of EU gross national income. The European Parliament wants an ambitious 1.3%, while the EU’s powerful executive arm, the European Commission, prefers 1.11%.

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.

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