Unlike the proverbial grass, the EU’s next long-term budget – or as insiders like to call it, the multi-annual financial framework (MFF) – is not expected to be ‘greener’, to the chagrin of many Green Deal enthusiasts.
It’s the mother of all EU policy battles and it’s just started.
The coming months in Brussels will be marked by extensive talks between member states and the EU executive over the seven-year budget.
Although it might seem too early to talk about something that will be operational from 2028 to 2035, we must not forget that an agreement on the current budget reached at the gong of the previous financial programme led to a two-year delay in the implementation of all EU core policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
“Four years ago, it was a very difficult debate and a very difficult political decision. And it will be, again, a very difficult political decision in the weeks to come,” European Council President Charles Michel said last Friday (27 October) after a meeting with EU leaders that kicked off the MFF talks.
Many budget allocations will be discussed at a later stage, for instance, whether the massive cohesion policy – the EU’s main investment policy to tackle regional disparities – will be redesigned in a bid to look more like the NextGenerationEU, the flagship initiative to mitigate the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, from which it has been easier to disburse funds.
Or whether the other big portion of the budget devoted to the EU’s farming subsidies will be spared from cuts in view of the future accession of Ukraine.
The initial talks at last week’s European Council, however, were more about the proposed top-up of roughly €100 billion to the trillion euro budget, needed partly to repay the debt issue for the €750 billion Recovery plan and partly to serve new priorities.
But those who expected a boost to the EU’s sustainability ambitions included in the Green Deal among these priorities have been let down.
The next meeting of EU leaders in December will be crucial, with the rotating Spanish EU Council presidency expected to put a final proposal about the €100 billion top-up on the table.
Although numbers and figures weren’t discussed at all last week, there was broad support for certain priorities requiring the extra effort, demanded from member states, according to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
These priorities were support for Ukraine, but also more funding in the external partnership with third countries to cope with the increased migration pressure as well as more money for natural disasters and humanitarian aid.
Although not broadly supported, the need for some sort of defence solidarity fund has been brought forward by some EU leaders, while the need to increase the competitiveness of European industry was also another topic mentioned during the round-up at the European Council.
Initiatives linked to the Green Deal were neglected. However, this lack of reference to what has been considered a priority during von der Leyen’s administration does not mean that the Green Deal is at risk.
As an approach, the Green Deal is embedded in basically every policy and will still be present in the core budget for the next financial programme.
This reflection is more meant to stress that the next MFF will be green but not greener, since the reformed part with additional funding will be mostly focused on reacting to crises rather than preventing them, while the Green Deal aimed to take steps to contain the environmental catastrophe before suffering its consequences.
“All of us are aware that there is a certain sense of urgency, and it would be great if we are able to make an agreement by the end of the year,” concluded Michel.
This sense of urgency could become the main matrix of the next MFF, not only of its first top-up, and will be probably implemented through financial tools that can be quickly disbursed or relocated, depending on which big crises the EU needs to tackle in a very specific moment.
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Views are the author’s
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Benjamin Fox]