'Schizophrenia' rules in budget battle: Commissioner
(BRUSSELS) - "Schizophrenic" positions by EU member states led to the breaking down of negotiations over the bloc's budget for the rest of the decade, the EU's budget commissioner told AFP.
"The positions of several states are schizophrenic, because they are cutting in sectors they have presented as priorities for growth and jobs in Europe," Janusz Lewandowski said in an interview.
"At the same time, there are gaps in transport, energy and communications infrastructures that call for hundreds of millions in investments if we want to create a real European network" across state borders, he said.
Lewandowski did not hide his bitterness at the rupture in negotiations during last week's summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
Haggling over the budget for the seven years from 2014 to 2020 began with a trillion-euro figure targeted by EU civil servants.
A new summit will tackle the issue again in the New Year after leaders last week failed to agree on how much further to go on a proposed 75 billion euros of cuts offered by permanent EU staff managers.
Some of the most powerful EU countries wanted deeper cuts to reflect tough austerity in domestic spending plans, but others, used to getting a leg-up from EU grants, wanted this type of spending kept up in these times of recession.
"There is still a majority of countries demanding more cuts despite concessions made during the negotiations, but this is not possible, we are at the limit of what is do-able," Lewandowski maintained.
The Commissioner said a deal EU President and summit chair Herman Van Rompuy tried to broker was unsatisfactory.
"This has never been tried: trying to deliver more 'Europe' with less money," he said.
Lewandowski said states that argued for cuts across the board refused to budge when it came to their own interests, which he said was "paradoxical."
Among those calling for cuts, he cited Finland which still wanted grants for remote near-Arctic regions in its north, Germany which wanted to keep receiving reunification aid for the former East Germany and France which wanted money to boost its farming aid.
Failure to agree a new seven-year budgetary framework -- the standard cycle the EU uses -- would mean 2013 budget levels would roll over.
This, he said, "would signify that only Britain would keep its rebate" and "all the others would lose their privileges."
Reductions in contributions obtained by several countries for the years 2007 to 2013 would be wiped out.
Going by the last full figures published for 2011, this would cost Germany around a billion euros, the Netherlands about 580 million and Austria about 100 million.
The Netherlands and Belgium -- home to the major seaports of Rotterdam and Antwerp, would lose the chance of keeping a quarter of import taxes ... while mini-rebates offered to these countries in lieu of Britain's clawback would remain.
Lewandowski said the next attempt to strike a deal -- one that would still need approval by the European Parliament -- would probably be fixed for February.
Just "don't expect the climate to have improved -- because the eurozone countries are in recession," he warned.
"European leaders should have the courage of their convictions and face down the challenges they have so as to offer financial peace for seven years," the Pole said.
"That would be more befitting of Nobel Peace Prize winners," Lewandowski underlined.
The Nobel Committee last month awarded the peace prize to the EU for bringing more than half a century of peace to a continent ripped apart by World War II.
Text and Picture Copyright 2012 AFP. All other Copyright 2012 EUbusiness Ltd. All rights reserved. This material is intended solely for personal use. Any other reproduction, publication or redistribution of this material without the written agreement of the copyright owner is strictly forbidden and any breach of copyright will be considered actionable.