EU civil war: Germany under attack with bid to end bitter row over bloc’s coronavirus fund
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The bloc’s three institutions – the Council, Commission and Parliament – are locked in talks to finalise the planned €1.8trillion recovery fund and budget package before the end of the year. Germany, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, has proposed the possibility billions of euros extra spending in a bid to break the deadlock with the EU Parliament over ensuring a clear link between funding and the rule of law. But the move has already been left of the rocks by criticism from other member states and MEPs.
Michael Clauss, Germany’s ambassador to the EU, wrote to Parliament’s budget negotiators to warn them time is running out to ensure the programme can be rolled out on January 1.
The senior diplomat suggested the budget could be increased by at least “upper-single digit” billions to appease MEPs’ complaints after the package was slashed in size earlier this summer.
However, he insisted the Parliament’s rule of law proposals to crackdown on rogue states receiving EU funds were too strong.
Mr Clauss wrote: “Time is of the essence if we want the programmes of the future financial framework and Next Generation EU to be able to start at the beginning of next year.
“The Council is ready to advance quickly to come to a conclusion that is urgently needed by our citizens, by companies, by researchers, by regions.
“In times of a global pandemic we cannot lose any more time in helping our economies.”
The letter marks the end of a six-week standstill in the talks to finalise the €750billion coronavirus bailout and €1.1trillion budget.
Diplomats and officials have expressed fears that any further delays to the process will put the bloc’s economy at risk.
EU leaders at a summit in July agreed that Brussels would be allowed to borrow money on international markets to distribute to pandemic-ravaged industries and regions.
As part of the bargaining, prime ministers and presidents agreed to include a mechanism to restrict funding to countries deemed to be have broken the EU’s laws and values.
The EU Parliament and northern capitals have pushed for tougher terms, but have been threatened with vetoes from the likes of Hungary and Poland if the rules are too strict.
MEPs are also pushing for the budget to be increased after leaders agreed to slash spending in order to find a deal on the recovery fund.
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Belgian MEP Johan van Overtveldt, who is leading the negotiations for the Parliament, said the letter was “full of good intentions”.
But he insisted MEPs would not accept “top-ups” to EU spending by diverting cash from other parts of the budget.
“We want an agreement on the recovery fund, but not at any price,” he said.
But frugal governments – Denmark, Sweden, Austria and the Netherlands – are expected to raise opposition to the German’s plans to pay more into the budget and reject the rule of law proposal.
One frugal diplomat said Mr Clauss’ “proved once again that the EU’s values are up for sale”.
Green MEP Sergey Lagodinsky also attacked the proposals on the rule of law mechanism.
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He said: “While the Commission’s rule of law report of last week is welcome, it’s nothing more than a list with no specific proposals for action, reading like a think tank report. The Parliament is calling for the Commission and Council to get operational and more effective.
“We are calling for a consolidation of the existing tools in one rule of law mechanism with a strong role for the Parliament. It must be accompanied by a much-needed budgetary conditionality based on reverse qualified majority voting. This will allow the EU to limit funding of those member states who disregard the core democratic values of the Union.”
“With the new mechanism proposal, the Parliament reasserts its role in the fight for liberal democracy. For us, it is crucial to include independent experts into the monitoring process as well as having all three institutions cooperate. Only if we do both, we will secure a credible, yet politically ambitious process. All of that would be insufficient if we fail to ensure the basics: The assessment can only be effective if it includes state of play on fundamental rights and anti-discrimination.”
Germany has since lashed out at opposition to its plans.
A spokesman said: “It’s regrettable that the European Parliament missed the opportunity to take the MFF negotiations forward today.
“The Council Presidency’s comprehensive offer stands.”
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