BRUSSELS: European Union leaders were divided at a Brussels summit on Friday over calls to pay more to fill the huge hole that Britain’s departure will leave in their budget.
EU President Donald Tusk said the 27 leaders, meeting without Britain to discuss future plans, wanted to spend more on defense, migration and security.
But there was no consensus on whether countries would each pay more into the joint budget to cover a post-Brexit shortfall of up to 15 billion euros a year.
“Many are ready to contribute more to the post-2020 budget,” Tusk told a news conference, adding that “we need to address the revenue gap caused by Brexit.”
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said 14 or 15 countries had agreed to step up their national contributions—which still leaves nearly half of the bloc undecided or opposed.
“This debate was less conflictual than I had expected,” said Juncker, warning however that: “If there is no money in the house, love flies out the door.”
Key economies Germany, Spain and France are all ready to pay more.
“France is ready for us to expand our budget,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy added: “I think Spain must be open to put more resources.”
But opposition is led by the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Austria, which are all “net contributors”—who pay more into the EU than they get out.
“What we don’t want is the weight of a constant increase in spending,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said.
The EU’s current seven-year budget of almost one trillion euros runs out in 2020 and leaders need to negotiate a new multi-year spending plan starting in 2021.
Merkel migrant plan
Britain has agreed to meet its commitments under the current plan, despite the fact it will be leaving the EU in March 2019.
The European Commission, the EU’s powerful executive arm, has called for spending to increase to between 1.1 percent and 1.2 percent of EU countries’ GDP, up from 1.0 percent in the current budget
Brussels has suggested cuts to agricultural funds, which is sure to anger farmers from major producer France, and payments to poorer regions, which Eastern European states will oppose.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plan to tie regional funding for poorer states to their willingness to take in refugees was less divisive than expected.
“This shouldn’t necessarily be viewed in a negative way, it could be viewed in a positive way” whereby states are rewarded for accepting asylum seekers, Merkel said.
“But this question wasn’t discussed in detail.”
There have also been suggestions that the funding should be made conditional on obeying the rule of law, seen as a shot across the bows to Poland and other Eastern European governments.
But Tusk said he had received “only positive reactions to this opinion. I was positively surprised.” Even Poland’s prime minister did not oppose the plans, added Tusk, a former Polish premier himself.
Tusk said no agreement on the budget was likely before the next European elections in 2019.