European Union leaders struggling to break budget deadlock

Mark Rutte talking to reporters

The tussle over money is a Brussels ritual, made more intense this time by the departure of Britain from the bloc, which has left a 75-billion-euro ($81-billion) "Brexit gap" over the 2021-27 period.

To emphasise that his position is final, Rutte said he had brought along a biography of composer Frederic Chopin that he planned to read at the summit as he had nothing to negotiate.

"I hope that we make sizeable progress".

Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands are among the highest contributors to the budget.

European Union leaders were trying to break the stalemate in divisive talks over the bloc's next seven-year budget as their summit continued to its second evening on Friday (21 February).

At the same time, the European Parliament is mounting pressure, as it seeks to increase national contribution to 1.3% of EU's GNI.

On the other hand, numerous poorer member states and the European Parliament wanted to stick with a bigger budget of 1.3 percent.

"It would be unacceptable to have a Europe that compensates for the departure of the British by reducing its own means", French President Emmanuel Macron said.

"It is important to finally have a figure that is supposed to be distributed", a frustrated Andrej Babis, the Czech prime minister, told reporters on leaving European Union headquarters in Brussels the middle of the night.

"My prime minister has been very clear from the start - we will not pick up the tab", said a "frugal" diplomatic source. Ms Merkel told reporters that leaders from the 27 member states faced a complex task and that they would have to overcome big differences.

That would be worth 1.074 per cent of the region's gross national income, but this is higher than the 1 per cent that frugal states have insisted they are willing to pay.

Against the "frugals" are France, which wants farm payments protected and more money for European defence projects, and the so-called friends of cohesion - a group of eastern and southern countries wanting to ringfence the money they get from the budget.

A frustrated Czech Prime Minister Anrej Babis questioned the value of a second day at the summit, saying if the rich countries were not prepared to move, "then we have nothing to discuss".

Some EU countries want extra funding to match new ambitions to fight climate change and manage migration, some want a continued focus on development and farm aid, and some are pushing to cut the overall budget after Britain - a key net contributor - left the bloc last month. They also want to keep their rebates, as does Germany. The European Parliament suggested 1.3%, while the EU Commission suggested 1.1%. "We are fine with being net payers, but we can not accept a dramatic increase in our fees - that is out of the question", Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told reporters.

The budget is also made up of customs revenue and income from fines levied by the commission, and the EU's executive arm has raked in plenty of those from antitrust cases involving tech firms and others in recent years.



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