Vigorous shroud-waving is often the first-resort for any public body threatened by spending cuts.
Little wonder then that the European Commission will on Wednesday reveal the full truth of what big cuts (roughly the size of the Brexit-related budget hole) would mean for cherished EU projects. Borders less protected, student dreams unfulfilled, science funding squeezed — it is a mini St Valentine’s Day massacre (excuse the pun). As negotiations on the EU’s long-term budget move into gear, brace yourselves for more of this.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission president, will unveil the almost 50 pages of scenario-based calculations to inform a discussion at next week’s summit of EU leaders. His paper aims to put a price tag on various EU policies, set according to the level of ambition. The not-so-subtle message: we’re ready to be austere, but don’t be surprised if spending restraint has nasty consequences.
Where cuts are expected, in an area like direct payments for farmers, the paper models steady state cuts of 15 per cent, or 30 per cent reductions. For the prized cohesion funding pot — money used to fund catch-up development in the poorer parts of every member state — richer countries like Germany are in line to get their share cut back to the benefit of poorer economies. Good luck getting that past Angela Merkel’s CDU.
Then there are areas where the EU wants to do more. The paper examines what it would mean to maintain spending on border control, double it, or match US levels. Funding for Erasmus students is also expected to be ringfenced at the very least. The programme represents just 1.5 per cent of the existing budget, but curiously receives a lot of attention in the budget scenarios. (Who could be against more student exchanges?)
Taken together, the assorted scenarios make one mathematical certainty quite obvious. Even maintaining the status quo in the EU budget will require member states to chip in more money after 2021.
Almost out of habit, the commission also outlines ways for the EU to create dedicated funding streams, rather than increase national contributions. One idea is dedicating between €21bn and €140bn of corporate tax receipts to the EU. But the chances of that happening are extremely remote; for many member states it has all the appeal of being pickpocketed.
Arguably the more interesting parts of the document are the omissions. Absent are clear references to the contentious idea of tying EU cohesion funds to compliance with rule of law. That battle is to come. And of course there is little detail on wasteful administrative spending, or indeed cuts to the running costs of the European Commission, which surely must be the most frightening scenario of all.
Chart du jour: watch out, SPD
Germany’s beleaguered SPD has a new leader-elect. Martin Schulz is out and Andrea Nahles is in. The former labour minister will become the first female head of the centre-left party should she be approved by the SPD’s rank and file. She’s already facing a brutal in-tray.
Among her tasks will be finding a way to boost the party’s poll rating which has fallen to just 1.5 percentage points above that of the populist rightwing AfD (chart above). Der Spiegel reports Ms Nahles has already had a “miserable start” to life at the top after her plan to immediately take the leadership reins were scuppered. Instead, Ms Nahles will need formal SPD congress approval in April. Viel Glück, Andrea.
Touring Planet Europe
A Dutchman walking
The Netherlands foreign minister has fallen on his sword just four months into the job, after he admitted lying about meeting Vladimir Putin over a decade ago and saying the Russian president had his expansionist eyes set on creating a “Greater Russia” (FT). Dutch newspaper Volkskrant first carried Halbe Zijlstra’s confession on Monday. They now report pressure is building on Prime Minister Mark Rutte to explain why he didn’t inform parliament about the minister’s fibs when he first found out.
More Juncker, more Europe
As well as his budget plans, the commission president will reveal his institution’s ideas on how to boost flagging voter turnout at European elections. The FT has got hold of the proposals which will back the controversial Spitzenkandidaten system that was first used to elect Mr Juncker in 2014. Governments don’t like it but the commission is ploughing ahead with the method for the 2019 European elections. Mr Juncker also wants to have longer election campaigns, possibly with primaries, as well as US-style debates between wannabe candidates aired in all member states.
Pleading for Puigdemont
Allies of Catalonia’s would-be president Carles Puigdemont are turning to the European Court of Human Rights as they seek a way to bring him back to Spain from his exile in various suburbs of Brussels. El Pais reports that the speaker of the Catalan parliament is to ask the Strasbourg court to find a way for Mr Puigdemont to be able to come back and assume his duties without being arrested on charges of rebellion and sedition.
The Saudi government is planning to cede control of Belgium’s largest mosque, which sits a stone’s throw away from the EU institutions in Brussels. Reuters reports the Gulf Kingdom’s royal family has agreed to hand over the running of the Grand Mosque to Belgian authorities after a number of controversies over its Saudi-funded promotion of conservative Wahabi Islam. The mosque’s leaders have denied it promotes violence.
Bankers in search of a tax break: head to Europe
Are you a UK citizen wanting to ease the financial squeeze from Brexit? Europe wants you (WSJ).
FAZ reports how the German government is considering trialing free public transport in some of its cities in an attempt to wean people off their cars and reduce pollution. Bonn, Essen, Herrenberg, Reutlingen and Mannheim are in line to take part in the experiment.
Boris Johnson on Brexit
The British foreign secretary and leading Brexit supporter is to warn in a heavily-trailed speech on Wednesday that it would be ‘intolerable’ for Britain to be subject to EU laws after it leaves the union.