With focus today on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, little is being mentioned about a summit in Beja tomorrow bringing together the “Friends of Cohesion” countries” which are desperate to fight their corners.
The reason: the so-called ‘frugal five’ EU States (the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Austria and Germany) want to pull back on spending – not simply because the UK’s annual input of €13 billion euros is set to disappear but because northern countries believe spending ‘needs to be dealt with more efficiently at EU level’.
Their proposal – rejected outright by southern and eastern Member States – is to reduce cohesion policy “to under 30% of the EU’s €1.35 billion budget”, explained EU Observer late last year.
Social democrat MEP José Manuel Fernandes was already warning in the spring that Portugal could end up losing up to €1.6 billion in cohesion funding (click here).
Other countries stand to drop similar amounts – potentially even more.
Thus the ‘message of unity’ designed to show Brussels that ‘less affluent’ countries – cohesion countries are those where Gross National Income is less than 90% of the EU average – won’t stand for it.
Much has been ongoing behind the scenes.
Prime minister António Costa, for instance, has been ‘hosting parties in the European Parliament ahead of the cohesion summit’, say reports. But the real ‘showdown’ will come in Beja.
The summit – to be attended by 13 heads of government and State, in addition to the European Budget Commissioners Johannes Hanne and (Portuguese) Elisa Ferreira – precedes an informal summit of heads of state and government of the European Union, scheduled for February 20.
Lusa concedes “the impasse surrounding the negotiations on the EU budget (dubbed the Multiannual Financial Framework) for 2021-2027 remains”, with Portugal extremely determined to hold on to everything it has been getting.
Last week meeting PS militants in Lisbon, foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva stressed that as far as he was concerned it “can be taken for granted” that Portugal ‘will not have fewer resources at current prices than those it has had so far’.
Underlining this mindset, secretary of state for European Affairs Ana Paula Zacarias has told reporters the Beja summit will not be concerned with “talking about the global total of the European Union budget. It’s more important for us to say that there are no cuts to cohesion policies due to their centrality in European programmes”.
For cohesion countries – which actually number no less than 17 of the 27 Member States – Cohesion Funding is ‘the principal face of European policies as seen by European citizens’, she stressed. It represent “the instruments of European policies that have most to do with citizens’ everyday lives”.
Confirmed for tomorrow’s summit is the President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades, and the prime ministers of Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain, Slovenia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Romania.
PM Costa will be hosting the event.