EU infighting erupted when members failed to seal a deal on the bloc’s next seven-year budget in the wake of Britain’s departure from the Union after almost 28 hours of discussions. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte – who has refused to pay more into the budget in the face of the EU’s financial woes following Britain’s exit from the bloc and migration pressures – was in the firing line.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly called out Mr Rutte for his “childlike behaviour” while European Council President Charles Michel accused the Dutch leader of “arrogance”.
And keen to have his say, French President Emmanuel Macron called Mr Rutte’s performance “shocking”, while Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez fumed: “Does Rutte know that I represent more citizens than his four countries together?”
The tense showdown over the budget is likely to have been made worse after Mr Rutte arrived at the summit armed with a biography of Polish composer, Frederic Chopin – reading material he said to pass the time for an inevitable impasse over the bloc’s long-term budget.
He told reporters: “I brought a book, the biography of Chopin with me.
“Our position is known and I don’t see what is there to negotiate.”
One angry diplomat hit back, saying: “If you don’t want to talk, just stay away.”
Cracks are starting to emerge in the 27-member bloc, who put on a united front in Brexit talks, as they battle it out over the Union’s €1.1 trillion budget for the next seven years.
Following two days of meetings, the EU27 failed to reach a breakthrough at the meetings chaired by Mr Michel as the bloc grapples with the no-small task of filling the gap left by the UK’s departure.
Setting the seven-year budget is always a tug of war, but it is fiercer than ever this time because of Britain’s exit from the EU last month.
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Britain was the EU’s second largest net contributor.
The UK’s departure came at a time of costly new challenges from climate change to migration.
The standoff over the size of the budget and how to carve it up has exposed rifts between countries in the north and south, between east and west, and between more developed and less advanced economies.
Denmark, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands – dubbed “the frugal four” – arrived at the talks adamant that they would not accept a budget of more than one percent of gross national income.
Beneficiaries of the joint budget, meanwhile, were asking for more than the previous proposal of 1.074 percent, equivalent to €1.09 trillion.
Mr Michel’s proposal would have capped joint spending at 1.069 percent of the continent’s economic output, but this was immediately rejected when he brought the leaders around the table to put it to them.
The European Commission has now been tasked with drawing up a plan that will make savage cuts to the bloc’s €1.1 trillion spending plans.
A date for the next round of talks has yet to be set in stone.
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