As expected, the European Council failed to get an agreement on the 2014 – 2020 EU Budgetary Framework.
The EU-27, gathered on last Thursday and Friday in Brussels, failed to agree on some points such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the EU civil servants’ salaries, or the future of the R&D policy. In these positions, the EU Member States’ interest was very present, and even central, to the detriment of the interests of the EU and of the European citizens.
Indeed, the latest European Council looked like a festival of national interests and selfishness in a context dominated by an endless Eurozone crisis. For instance, the clash between UK and France regarding the priorities of the EU Budget: a hushed clash between two countries, two visions of the EU in which there was finally no winner, everyone considering the claims of the other unrealistic and unacceptable. Thus, when David Cameron, the UK Prime minister, demanded deep cuts on the budget and keeping his rebate and criticized the CAP, François Hollande, the French head of State, opposed a flat-refusal and tried to isolate an UK which does not know where it goes. On its side, the European Commission seemed to be marginalised insofar as it made no major proposal. Though it owns the monopoly of the power of initiative, it left it to the Member States, despairing some experts such as Jean Quatremer, French journalist and blogger, who strongly criticised the inaction of José Manuel Barroso.
It is not the first time Member States and the same protagonists have an opposition on the EU budget and almost on the same points. In June 2005, Tony Blair, then UK Prime minister, and Jacques Chirac, then French president, had a clash on the amount of the UK rebate and the future of the CAP. This clash drove on a resounding failure and a new European Council meeting in which the Labour Leader made important concession on the rebate (he accepted a 20% reduction) and a maintain of the CAP till 2013. This concession was very criticised by the tabloids, which considered that the UK had been too much conciliating with EU and France.
This new failure, though predictable, is not a good signal sent by the EU and the Heads of State and government. In the current context of crisis, and at the moment the EU Member States should implement some solidarity and reassure the citizens, the most recent European Council showed the expression of national interests and selfishness instead of the drawing a road map, a direction for the European integration. It is not necessarily dramatic, insofar as Member States (via the Committee of Permanent Representatives, COREPER) are still going to keep negotiating to reach an agreement, even if it is a minima. Nonetheless, it gives a clear indication on the lack of inspiration and ambition coming from our national rulers when it comes to the EU, at a moment when Europe should be strong and capable to give the best image of it to citizens who have more and more interrogations regarding its efficiency and its utility.
Like in 2005, the Heads of State and government planned a new meeting at the beginning of 2013 to get a compromise which will be probably reached, because of the international economic context. The remaining question is how and at what price.