EU leaders enter bitter fight over budget
European Union leaders have begun what is expected to be a long and bitter session on a long-term budget for the region.
With each of the 27 nations having the power of veto over the 2014-20 budget, the summit negotiations that began late on Thursday could stretch over the weekend, perhaps without result as leaders staked out starkly different visions of Europe’s future.
While British Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking to keep payments into EU coffers down as low as possible, French President Francois Hollande called for sustained subsidies for farming and development programs for poorer nations.
Mr Cameron voiced the concerns of several other countries that do not want to see an increase in the bloc’s spending plan at a time when many member states are cutting budgets at home.
‘‘No, I’m not happy at all,’’ Mr Cameron said about EU President Herman Van Rompuy’s latest offer to cap spending for 2014-20 at 1 trillion euros ($1.25 trillion).
‘‘Clearly, at a time when we’re making difficult decisions at home over public spending, it would be quite wrong - it is quite wrong - for there to be proposals for this increased extra spending in the EU,’’ Mr Cameron said.
The EU budget primarily funds programs to help farming and spur growth in the bloc’s less developed, and it amounts to about 1 per cent of the EU’s gross domestic product.
France’s Hollande said that was worth fighting for, adding he would be happy to walk away from the meeting if his demands were not met.
‘‘No country should have a privileged position,’’ Mr Hollande retorted. ‘‘I come here to find a compromise, not to set an ultimatum.’’
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, supports more spending, arguing that cross-border initiatives will help create the economic growth and jobs that the bloc of a half-billion people needs, particularly during a financial crisis that has pushed some countries into recession.
The amount of work Mr Van Rompuy has to do to bring the conflicting views closer together was highlighted earlier on Thursday as the bilateral meetings preceding the summit overran, forcing the opening discussions to be delayed by 2.5 hours until about 10.30pm local time.
Calling on all for a compromise, Mr Van Rompuy said ’’it is necessary and, I am convinced, it is within our reach. So, dear colleagues, let’s get down to business.’’
Several leaders were already anticipating the possibility of failure and the need to hold another summit in the new year to negotiate a deal.
‘‘Germany wants to reach a goal, but there might also be the need for yet another stage,’’ Chancellor Angela Merkel said.