European leaders have moved closer to an agreement on the EU's long-term budget and should clinch a deal in the spring, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė said in an exclusive interview with EurActiv.
Following last week's EU summit in Brussels, Grybauskaitė noted the situation has changed since leaders met in November to discuss the nearly €1 trillion budget for 2014-2020, the so-called multi-annual financial framework, or MFF.
"The last failure was very predictable - we had very few chances to agree in November," the former EU budget commissioner said. "But now the situation has changed. We have agreed on a roadmap for the banking union. We have set a number of goals that will be delivered only by June 2015."
The main controversy in November appeared to be between the United Kingdom, whose Prime Minister David Cameron wanted deeper cuts, and France, which fought to preserve payments to farmers at the level proposed by the Commission.
The proposal currently on the table, made by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, has raised figures for agriculture from €364.5 billion to €372.2 billion. Cohesion funds have also gone up at the expense of those budgetary categories that are supposed to restart the economy - such as competitiveness for growth and jobs and the Connecting Europe Facility.
Business as usual?
All member states understand the importance of investments made to boost competitiveness, but when they are at the negotiating table, leaders want to strike a balance between what they pay and what they receive, Grybauskaitė explained.
"The pressure of national interest overwhelms strategic thinking about the common interest and overshadows the priorities on what Europe needs," she added, stressing that European spending is conceived as to bring added value.
The Lithuanian president wants to try to persuade EU leaders at their meeting in February that they should not treat the EU budget in the same way they treat national budgets.
"European spending is supposed to give added-value to the European Union as a whole, to all regions. You cannot just invest in poor regions and members - or spend on small and inefficient policies mainly to drive consumption, which can be done by national budgets," she said, hinting at the Common Agricultural Policy.
"If you spend just for consumption, the one euro you spend will remain one euro. But if you invest that one euro in ICT, trans-European networks etc., that euro can turn into 8-10 euro," she said.
Grybauskaitė is confident a deal will be reached in the spring, as EU leaders take grapple with the worst economic and political crisis faced by the European Union. Asked if the next EU budget meeting in February will be just a stepping stone towards an agreement at the spring summit in March, she said it was better not to prejudge. "But EU member states are mentally ready to have an agreement in the spring."
If no agreement is found early next year, the Lithuanian presidency starting on 1 July 2013 will struggle to push through regulations that need to be adopted before the beginning of the next financial period in 2014 and a delay of one-two years is foreseen for projects to be implemented.
"If not compromise is found, it will be at the price of new projects that would be able to redress the EU economy," she said, adding only old programmes will be able to be financed.
"Those countries threatening the veto, go against their own interest - because fresh money will not aliment their own economy," she said.
Last updated 2012.12.19 12:52Back