General Affairs Council
Holistic MFF ‘negotiating box’ with no figures on agenda
By Gaspard Sebag | Friday 25 May 2012
Still containing no figures about the overall size and sums allocated to each heading, a holistic version, covering both the expenditure and the revenue side, of the Danish EU Presidency’s 2014-2020 multiannual financial framework (MFF) ‘negotiating box’ will be put on the table at the General Affairs Council meeting, on 29 May. Lacking guidance that only figures can provide, ministers will probably restate their country’s position in some long-standing debates (see box). The discussion is also likely to focus on the controversial macroeconomic conditionality applied to structural, rural development and fisheries funds and the options to distribute direct payments for farmers more equitably.
The Danish Presidency recalls that its ‘negotiating box’ is not binding upon any delegation. Its purpose is to sum up the current state of the talks and present compromise solutions (in brackets). But since there are no figures, progress can only be incremental. To see progress on this front, observers will probably have to wait until the General Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg, on 26 June at the earliest, or maybe even the EU leaders’ summi,t on 28-29 June. In the meantime, there will be an informal ministerial meeting on the MFF in Horsens, Denmark, on 10-11 June. But no substantial steps forward are to be expected until the French and Greek parliamentary elections, scheduled on 17 June, says one diplomat.
The ‘negotiating box’ says that the Structural and Cohesion Funds will be brought together with the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) under a common strategic framework. The Commission proposes to apply macroeconomic conditionality (ex ante conditions - to be met even before any funds are distributed - and ex post conditions) to all these funds. This conditionality, and the suggested suspension of funds associated to it, have created much unease among the largest beneficiaries, the so-called cohesionists. In an attempt to placate them, a compromise, which states that the macroeconomic conditionality these five funds were to be subject to should be gradual, has been put on the table. In addition, instead of applying to both payments and commitments, the Presidency’s ‘negotiating box’ suggests that the suspension could apply to the latter only.
The Council agrees that, during the 2014-2020 period, an effort should be made to distribute direct support to farmers more equitably between member states. There are, however, strong divergences as to the manner and degree to which the gap between so-called ‘old’ and ‘new’ member states should be closed. The discussions could also spill over to own resources, which are now included in the ‘negotiating box’, and correction mechanisms.
Officially, the aim is to reach an agreement and adopt the MFF regulation before the end of this year. Few in the capitals believe, however, that an agreement can be found under the Cypriot Presidency.
Ministers will also discuss the preparation of the June European Council where, beyond the MFF, the star topics will be the EU’s agenda for growth, the conclusion of the 2012 ‘European semester’ as well as governance of the Schengen area and asylum. Discussions will then move on to the preparations for the G20 summit to be held in Los Cabos, Mexico, on 18-19 June. Finally, the Council will briefly discuss the monitoring of Croatia’s preparations for accession to the EU on the basis of a report from the Commission. Ministers are expected to note that, overall, Croatia’s preparations for EU membership are on track but that the country should step up its efforts.
- Including or excluding some elements from the MFF, in particular large-scale projects, such as ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) and GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security)
- Should there be sub-headings or sub-ceilings for competitiveness (a) and cohesion (b) in Heading 1 (competitiveness) and for security (a) and citizenship (b) in Heading 3
- Should a transition region be introduced for those no longer in the convergence criteria (below 75% of the EU average gross national income)