EU budget row on defence as France tells Brussels ‘It’s a dangerous world, spend more!’

We live in a dangerous world and must spend more on defence, French MEP Nathalie Loiseau said on Thursday, as European leaders went into a frenzy of meetings to agree on the first EU budget since Britain’s departure. The EU budget “has fallen short of expectations,” namely on defence, Mme Loiseau, France’s former Europe minister, said in a Twitter post.

“In an increasingly dangerous world in which alliances have become more volatile and competition more intense, we must give ourselves the means to strengthen European defence,” she continued.

Her views echoed those of French President Emmanuel Macron, who insists the bloc must have an effective defence policy if it is to consolidate its role as a world power and achieve strategic autonomy.

M Macron also argues that a Europe with a strengthened defence capability and enhanced sovereignty will better counter-balance an increasingly protectionist United States and bold China.

Mme Loiseau’s call for increased defence spending came as the EU27 began talks on a joint 2021-2027 budget that will need to fill a multi-billion-euro hole left by Brexit.

The “Brexit gap” is caused by the loss of the UK’s contribution is €75 billion (£62.7billion) over the seven-year period, but some, including M Macron, insist this does not mean the EU should lower its ambitions by cutting spending.

“It would be unacceptable to have a Europe that compensates for the departure of Britain by reducing its own means,” he said.

The 42-year-old French centrist wants farm payments protected and more money for defence projects.

But he locked horns with the self-styled “Frugal Four” – Holland, Sweden, Austria and Denmark – whose leaders are adamant that the bloc curb spending.

The minimum spending in the multi-annual financial framework (MFF), as the long-term budget is called, is just over one trillion euros.

But deep divisions between richer and poorer nations remained unresolved on Friday after all-night talks.

The hostilities are over how much the new budget should increase by, how spending might be shifted between priorities, and how much each member state should pay as a percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP).

The starting point for discussions on the size of the budget is 1.074 percent of the bloc’s gross national income (GNI) or €1.09 trillion.

The last MFF came in at €1.08 trillion (in 2018 prices).

The Frugal Four, however, want to put the budget ceiling at one percent of GDP and refuse to pay more to make up for the loss of Britain’s payments.

The poorer eastern and southern nations want to hold on to development aid, while others like Germany are keen to shift funds towards new priorities including global warming, migration and technology.  

Budget talks could ground to an inconclusive end, forcing EU leaders to reconvene for another meeting, most likely in April.

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