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EU budget: Long-term funding row in COVID-19 spotlight as talks resume

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A man carries a cycling helmet as he walks by EU flags outside EU headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020.
A man carries a cycling helmet as he walks by EU flags outside EU headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Virginia Mayo
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Internal negotiations are continuing on Monday over the European Union's long-term budget, amid increasing pressure on the bloc's main institutions to settle a row putting into jeopardy the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The talks on the budget for 2021—2027 — which involve the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission — come amid a long-running dispute between countries and MEPs over spending.

After much wrangling, European leaders finally agreed in July on the amount the EU can spend over the next seven years. This was set at €1.8 trillion — of which €750 billion is for the coronavirus recovery fund, otherwise known as Next Generation EU.

The rest of the money, €1.074 trillion, makes up the EU's long-term budget - the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).

But MEPs have been locked in a battle with the European Council, made up largely of national leaders from the EU's member states, over spending levels. This has threatened to hold up funding allocated for the fight against the pandemic as it ravages the continent.

The European Parliament has been calling for an extra €39 billion for programmes in areas such as climate change, health, research and Erasmus student exchanges. In September it published a list of 15 EU flagship programmes it was supporting.

At the end of October, one French socialist MEP said he was going on hunger strike over the battle for more funding.

In separate talks, an agreement was reached last week over one of the barriers to a deal: linking EU funding for member states to respect for the rule of law.

MEPs insisted on making funding transfers conditional upon adherence to democratic values, human rights and the independence of the judiciary.

Under the new mechanism, subject to final approval, individual EU countries could lose their veto and have funding cut if a majority of other member states back such a move.