Poland starts its presidency of the Council of Ministers knowing that the closing, decisive stages of talks on the EU’s long-term budget, the post-2013 multiannual framework (MFF), will be in the hands of other presidencies. And, like any presidency at this stage in talks, it knows that it will take a bruising, from net contributors and net beneficiaries alike.
As Jan Tombinski, Poland’s permanent representative to the EU, puts it: “It will be a very difficult, delicate discussion not just over the coming months but over the coming years.”
Poland also starts its presidency with a particular handicap, as one of the big net beneficiaries of EU spending and as the country most affected by one of the big inequalities of previous budgets, the treatment of farmers from the countries that joined in 2004 and subsequently.
Such realities predispose it to be a defender of the budget, observers say, potentially setting the stage for clashes with big member states – France, Germany and the UK – that have already called for spending increases to be limited to the rate of inflation.
Tombin?ski says that the Polish presidency will “defend” spending in areas such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and cohesion policy. But Poland presents its defence of EU-level spending as a matter of principle.
Cohesion policy has “proved to be probably the best tool” to modernise Europe, Tombin?ski says. Investment has paid off, and should not be forgotten now, the presidency argues, suggesting that Poland’s own fast growth is an indication of how much growth potential there is within the EU.
Poland’s strategic response to the challenge of putting that case while chairing the presidency is to adopt an approach that focuses on principles, rather than on specific spending figures.
In practice, that will translate into clarifying the European Commission’s proposal on the MFF, which is due on 29-30 June, and clarifying member states’ positions on various broad issues: what period the budget will cover, how it should be structured and how much flexibility should be built in. The first few months, diplomats say, will be the “enlightening phase”.
Enlightenment will be pursued at an early informal and specially convened meeting of European affairs ministers on 28-29 July in Sopot, north of Gdan?sk.
Poland will also have to balance guiding negotiations at the Council of Ministers with efforts to make sure that the European Parliament feels adequately involved in the negotiations. MEPs have warned that they will reject any deal if they believe their demands have not been taken into account.
Indirectly linked to the MFF negotiations will be negotiations on the EU’s 2012 budget with the Parliament. Poland will be hard pressed to reconcile the MEPs’ backing for a 4.9% year-on-year increase in spending with demands from some member states for a de facto freeze.
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