EU split over budget as Germans push for curbs

EU Budget Commissioner Guenther Oettinger speaks during a news conference in Brussels. (Reuters/File)
Updated 17 September 2019

EU split over budget as Germans push for curbs

  • Divisions over the next 2021-2027 financial framework run deeper than usual

BERLIN: The EU may need to scale back its plans to boost growth and counter climate change if it fails to quickly agree on a long-term budget, European officials said on Monday, as Germany and other northern states push to restrict spending.

The EU administration is funded with a seven-year budget. The size and targets are often subject to prolonged haggling among its member states.

But divisions over the next 2021-2027 financial framework run deeper than usual at a time when the bloc faces risks of a new economic recession and uncertainty over the outcome of the Brexit process — which is expected to lead Britain, one of the largest contributors to the EU coffers, out of the union.

“My big concern is that Europe will be in a difficult economic and geopolitical situation if there is no budget by the first of January,” the EU commissioner in charge of the talks, Guenther Oettinger, told an EU ministers’ meeting in Brussels.

He said the urgency to strike a deal was heightened by the bloc’s weakening economy, with Germany and other EU states stagnating. He said it would take years to find a compromise at the current pace of negotiation.

The long-term financial framework needs to be adopted well in advance of its starting date because it has to be translated into yearly spending programs which also usually require long negotiations.

The EU’s executive commission proposed last year a seven-year budget of roughly €1.1 trillion ($1.22 trillion) which would represent 1.11 percent of the bloc’s Gross National Income (GNI), a measure of domestic output. The estimate does not include funding from Britain, which is planning to leave the EU at the end of October.

But Germany, the EU’s largest economy and the main contributor to the budget, has made it known that it wants to limit spending to 1 percent of economic output, according to a document seen by Reuters. Sweden and the Netherlands openly support Berlin’s more cautious spending plans.

The budget for the current seven-year period also amounts to 1 percent of GNI, but Brussels said it has to go up because of planned higher spending on research, digital economy, border control and defense.

Berlin said the proposed cap would represent a net increase in spending by EU states, as the bloc would have to do without contributions from Britain. It also urged more spending to counter climate change.

The European Parliament, backed by southern and eastern European states who are net receivers of EU funds, wants a bigger budget, set at 1.3 percent of the bloc’s GNI.

Lawmakers also urged further funding for new projects on climate change and for unemployment benefits as mentioned by the commission’s president-designate Ursula von der Leynen in her inaugural speech after appointment in July. Spain’s state secretary for EU affairs, Marco Aguiriano Nalda, said differences between the proposals made it almost impossible to find a compromise before the end of the year.

“I have to express strong worries and reservations on the state of play of the financial framework,” he told his counterparts at a televised session of the ministerial meeting.

Poland’s State Secretary for European Affairs, Konrad Szymanski, told the same meeting that reduced spending caps would inevitably translate into lower ambitions.

A compromise is made more difficult also by plans to make EU funding conditional on upholding the bloc’s values, including the rule of law. Germany called for this “conditionality” in its confidential document reviewed by Reuters.

Lebanon plans to charge for WhatsApp calls -minister

Updated 5 min 39 sec ago

Lebanon plans to charge for WhatsApp calls -minister

  • Jamal al-Jarrah said that cabinet had agreed a charge of 20 cents per day for calls used by applications including Whatsapp, Facebook calls and FaceTime
  • The fee could potentially bring in up to $250 million in annual revenues from the country's estimated 3.5 million VoIP users

BEIRUT: Lebanon's cabinet has agreed to impose a fee on calls over WhatsApp and other similar applications, as part of efforts to raise revenues in the country's 2020 draft budget, a minister said on Thursday.
Lebanon has one of the world's highest debt burdens, low growth and crumbling infrastructure and is facing strains in its financial system from a slowdown in capital inflows. The government has declared a state of "economic emergency" and promised steps to ward off a crisis.
Information Minister Jamal al-Jarrah said on Thursday that cabinet had agreed a charge of 20 cents per day for calls via voice over internet protocol (VoIP), used by applications including Facebook-owned Whatsapp, Facebook calls and FaceTime.
The fee could potentially bring in up to $250 million in annual revenues from the country's estimated 3.5 million VoIP users.
The country has only two service providers, both state-owned, and some of the most costly mobile rates in the region.
Lebanese TV channels cited Telecoms Minister Mohamed Choucair as saying the fee would "not be applied without something in return" which he would announce next week.
Finance Mininster Ali Hassan Khalil said last month there were no new taxes or fees in the draft 2020 budget he sent to cabinet.
Lebanon is under pressure to approve the 2020 budget to unlock some $11 billion pledged at a donor conference last year, conditional on fiscal and other reforms.
Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has said the government would work to further reduce the 2020 budget deficit.
Foreign allies are not yet fully convinced the Lebanese government is serious about reforms, and a French envoy last month criticised the pace of work.
The government only approved the 2019 budget halfway through this year. Lebanon had until 2017 had gone 12 years without a budget.
Ahead of a cabinet session on Thursday, Jarrah said ministers would discuss a proposal to raise value-added tax by 2 percentage points in 2021 and then another 2 percentage points in 2022, until it reaches 15%.
After ministers agree the 2020 draft budget, they must send it to parliament for approval.