A high level conference in Brussels in early January devoted itself to “Shaping Our Future: Designing the Next Multiannual Financial Framework”. The conference focused on how the European Union should fund its future efforts, in domains ranging from the common agricultural policy to migration. European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources Günther Oettinger and Federal Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel delivered remarks as a lead in to the discussions.
New challenges for the European Union
In their remarks delivered on 8 January, European Commission President Juncker and Budget Commissioner Oettinger outlined their expectations for the next Multiannual Financial Framework and described the budgetary outlook of the European Union from 2020 onwards. Juncker and Oettinger clearly stated the EU will need to do more, meaning it will also have to spend more, in policy areas such as counter terrorism, securing the EU’s external borders, foreign and security policy, and maintaining competitiveness in the digital age. With the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, the EU will also be losing one of its largest contributors. Oettinger said Brexit will result in an EU budget gap of between 12 and 13 billion euros annually. EU budget negotiations will therefore need to address a double challenge – more priorities for the EU, along with a budget gap due to Brexit.
To tackle these new priorities, the Commission would like to increase EU spending slightly. Budget Commissioner Oettinger spoke of “1.1 percent plus x” – the EU’s current budget amounts to approximately 1 percent of EU GDP. Regarding the budget gap created by Brexit, Oettinger proposed closing it with “50 percent savings within the current budget structure and 50 percent fresh money”.
A net beneficiary of European Integration
Foreign Minister Gabriel in his conference remarks pointed out that Germany, contrary to widespread opinion, is actually “most likely the largest net beneficiary of European integration”. More than any other EU member state, Germany’s exporters rely on their most important EU partner countries being economically and financially strong. “No one depends on the prosperity of other member states as much as does Germany,” Gabriel said. Foreign Minister Gabriel stated that, while he in principle supports the ideas presented by Oettinger and Juncker, he cannot speak for the German Government due to the current exploratory talks.
Gabriel also underscored the great importance of the European Union. It is a truly unique project that has succeeded in bringing long term prosperity and peace to a European continent that for centuries had been ravaged by crises. Looking back at Europe’s long history of conflicts, the Minister said: “What a happy community we are that we are today arguing only about money.”
Meeting with Mogherini to discuss Iran
Prior to the budget conference, Gabriel met with Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, to discuss the further implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran, as well as recent developments in the country. Their talks will be continued on 11 January, when Mogherini and Gabriel, joined by their French and UK counterparts, will meet in Brussels with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. That meeting, too, will address the nuclear deal with Iran.