EU budgets, including spending on agriculture, were on a knife edge in Brussels yesterday as ministers tried to beat a 72-hour deadline to reach agreement on a range of contentious issues.
Junior Minister in the Department of Finance, Simon Harris, said he was optimistic that a deal would be reached in time, and was especially upbeat on the common agriculture spending.
They were expected to nod through a landmark change to the way member countries’ contributions to the EU budget are organised to resolve a row with the British government that leaves them owing more than €2bn of back payments.
The European Commission, under increasing strain to pay bills, proposed to divert funds set aside for the Agriculture Guarantee Fund despite three quarters of it having been used to support farmers affected by the Russian food ban.
Agriculture ministers objected to the decrease at their meeting earlier this week and Ireland was among 21 countries who signed a letter objecting to the reallocation. They said the reserve should be preserved to maintain their ability to further help the food sector in the event of the crisis deepening or a new one developing.
With member states continually cutting back on the EU’s budget while demanding increasing action by the union, agreement on a series of amending budgets for the past two years are in play in the talks.
However, spending for next year is a major issue also with member states saying it must be no more than €140bn — an increase of 3.3% on this year’s budget while the European Parliament is pushing for €146.4bn which represents an 8% increase.
If they cannot agree before the Monday deadline then the Commission will have to go back to the drawing board and produce a new budget, and spending will be restricted to the same monthly send last year until agreement is reached.
The parliament has linked the amending budgets for 2014 to agreement on next year’s budget insisting that last year’s bills have to be settled first.
The European Court of Auditors and Business Europe, that represents industry, have warned about the backlog of bills owed by the Commission as countries are slow to pay their share and raise fresh objections annually despite previous agreements.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved