EU leaders split over $1.2 trillion post-Brexit budget

EU Commission President Juncker and President of the EU Council Tusk attend EU Tripartite Social Summit in Brussels. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 18 October 2019

EU leaders split over $1.2 trillion post-Brexit budget

  • Under a proposal prepared by Finland, the next long-term budget should have a financial capacity between 1.03% and 1.08% of the EU GNI, a measure of output
  • After the meeting, some EU leaders and officials described the talks as difficult

BRUSSELS: European Union leaders discussed a new budget plan on Friday that could allow the EU to spend up to 1.1 trillion euros ($1.2 trillion) in the 2021-2027 period, but deep divisions among governments may block a deal for months.
Under a proposal prepared by Finland, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, the next long-term budget should have a financial capacity between 1.03% and 1.08% of the EU gross national income (GNI), a measure of output.
That would allow the EU to spend 1 trillion to 1.1 trillion euros for seven years in its first budget after the departure of Britain, one of the top contributors to EU coffers.
After the meeting, some EU leaders and officials described the talks as difficult.
The Finnish document, seen by Reuters, is less ambitious than proposals put forward by the European Commission, the EU executive, which is seeking a budget worth 1.1% of GNI. The EU parliament called for an even bigger budget, 1.3% of GNI.
But the Finnish proposal moves beyond a 1% cap set by Germany, the largest EU economy. And it has displeased most of the 27 EU states, EU officials said, suggesting long negotiations before a compromise can be reached.
Talks on budgets are usually among the most divisive in an EU increasingly prone to quarrels. The member states are deeply split over economic policies, financial reforms and how to handle migrants.

DEEP SPLIT
The Finnish proposal, which cuts spending on farmers and poorer regions, has managed to unite the divided EU leaders in their criticism.
“The text has caused nearly unanimous dissatisfaction,” a diplomat involved in the talks said.
New, expensive policies, such as protecting its borders and increasing social security, have been enacted, but states are reluctant to pay more.
Germany and other Nordic supporters of a smaller budget argue that because of Brexit, they would pay more into the EU even with a 1% cap because they would need to compensate for the loss of Britain.
Eastern and southern states, who benefit from EU funds on poorer regions and agriculture, want a bigger budget and are not happy with Finland’s proposed cuts on these sectors.
Under the proposal, subsidies to poor regions would drop to less than 30% of the budget from 34% now. Aid to farmers would fall to slightly more than 30% from over 35% of the total.
To complicate matters, the new budget should also include rules that would suspend funding to member states with rule-of-law shortcomings, such as limits on media freedom or curbs on the independence of judges.
This is irking states like Poland and Hungary, which Brussels has accused of breaches in the rule of law after judiciary and media reforms adopted by their right-wing governments.
Friday’s meeting was not supposed to find a compromise, but divisions are so deep that many officials fear a deal may not be reached by a self-imposed December deadline. A later deal would delay the launch of spending programs.
The Finns remained confident, however, and insist their suggested spending range would eventually be backed by EU states. “The fact that almost everybody is against our text shows we have put forward a fair proposal,” one diplomat said.


Anti-government protesters block roads in Pakistan as unrest mounts

Updated 14 November 2019

Anti-government protesters block roads in Pakistan as unrest mounts

  • Tens of thousands of demonstrators joined a sit-in in Islamabad on Oct. 31 and camped there for about two weeks
  • Firebrand cleric leading the protests called for nationwide demonstrations

ISLAMABAD: Anti-government protesters in Pakistan blocked major roads and highways across the country on Thursday in a bid to force Prime Minister Imran Khan to resign.
The demonstrators — led by the leader of opposition party Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), the firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman — have taken to the streets as the start of their “Plan B” to topple the government and ensure a general election after failing to push Khan out through a fortnight-long sit-in in Islamabad, which ended on Wednesday.
That same day, Rehman told his party workers to spread their protests to other parts of the country.
“This protest will continue not for a day but for a month, if our leadership instructs,” said JUI-F Secretary-General, Maulana Nasir Mehmood, to a group of protesters who blocked the country’s main Karakoram Highway — an important trade route between Pakistan and China that also connects the country’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province with its northern areas.
The JUI-F protesters also blocked other key routes in KP and a major highway connecting the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. The party’s Balochistan chapter also announced its intention to block the highway connecting Pakistan to neighboring Iran.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators joined the sit-in in Islamabad on Oct. 31 and camped there for about two weeks, demanding the prime minister’s resignation and fresh polls in the country following allegations of electoral fraud last year and the mismanagement of Pakistan’s economy. The government denies both charges.
Rehman is a veteran politician who was a member of the National Assembly for 20 years. He enjoys support in religious circles across the country. His party has yet to share a detailed plan regarding which roads will be closed when, or how long this new phase of protests will continue.
The JUI-F and other opposition parties have been trying to capitalize on the anger and frustration of the public against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf ruling party, which came to power last year promising 10 million new jobs for the youth, 5 million low-cost houses, and economic reforms to benefit the middle class.
Since then, Pakistan’s economy has nosedived, witnessing double-digit inflation and rampant unemployment. The government signed a $6-billion bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund to stave off a balance-of-payments crisis.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan has stabilized the deteriorating economy, and Maulana Fazlur Rehman ‘Plan B’ will fail like his ‘Plan A,’” Firdous Ashiq Awan, special assistant to the prime minister on information and broadcasting, said in a statement to the press.

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