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The battle for the EU budget begins as Brexit leaves €15 billion annual vacuum

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By Jack Parrock
Burnt Euro notes are displayed in the money museum of German Bundesbank in Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, Sept.14, 2011.(AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Burnt Euro notes are displayed in the money museum of German Bundesbank in Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, Sept.14, 2011.(AP Photo/Michael Probst)   -   Copyright  AP   -   Michael Probst

The battle over money for the EU budget is on.

As the second biggest economy of the bloc after Germany, the United Kingdom was a prominent net contributor to the Multiannual financial framework (MFF), the long-term budget that funds the policies, programmes, and administration of the European Union. The current MFF is set to expire at the end of this year, and a new one must be drafted to immediately replace it. 

But this time around, the replacement comes with a remarkable price tag. According to former EU Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger, Brexit will leave a vacuum worth between €12 billion and €15 billion a year. Additionally, some of the key ambitions of the von der Leyen Commission, such as the European Green Deal, depend on a strong and consistent budget to achieve success. For this reason, the debate is already heating up.

The week before EU heads of state and government travel to Brussels for a two-day extraordinary European Summit exclusively focused on the size of the EU budget, Jack Parrock talks to those who will have the final say over it: Members of the European Parliament. 

“There are member states who say the budget of the European Union should be smaller, although they themselves expect the European Union to do much more and this is not a serious position,” says Siegfried Mureșan, from the EPP Group.

The majority of Members of the European Parliament demand a budget equal to 1.3 per cent of the gross national income of the whole European Union. However, the so-called “Frugal Five” (Austria, Denmark Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden) prefer to cap the budget at around 1 per cent in order to reflect the smaller size of the post-Brexit EU, while the “Friends of Cohesion”, made up of the 15 largest beneficiaries of cohesion funds, reject significant cuts. 

“The goal now is to negotiate between that difference, that percentage, to get how much money the European Union is going to have in the next 7 years to try to push forward all those policies that we do in Brussels”, believes Adrián Vázquez Lázara, from Renew Europe. “I would say it’s amazing how, at the end, 27 member states, 27 governments reach an agreement on how much money they have to give to the European Union.”

MEPs are ready to stand their ground and push for a budget that can sufficiently finance the top priorities of the coming years, including digitalisation, migration policy, and the transition towards climate neutrality. Eventually, it will be up to them to accept or reject by an absolute majority vote the agreement to which member states have to arrive sooner or later. “If we are not happy with the budget, we will not give the consent to the budget,” declares Margarida Marques, from the S&D Group.