Next EU budget ‘will have to reflect impact of Covid-19 crisis’

The EU budget – the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) – will be used to “reflect the impact of the Covid-19 crisis”, according to the Eurogroup.

The group, which brings together the finance ministers of the Eurozone (countries that use the euro as their currency) released a statement after ministers agreed a rescue package to tackle the pandemic. The package reportedly amounts to €500 billion.

Outlining what steps will be necessary to prepare for an economic recovery after the pandemic passes, the group said that the MFF will play a central role in this.

The MFF has come in for much discussion in agriculture circles in recent months. Before the Covid-19 situation, EU finance minister had been trying to agree a new budget for the period 2021 to 2027. This would have had an impact on funding for the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP).

The Eurogroup statement said the MFF will “have to reflect the impact of the crisis and the size of the challenges ahead”.

It will do this by “setting the right priorities; allowing member states to effectively address the fallout of the coronavirus crisis; supporting the economic recovery; and ensuring that cohesion within the union is maintained through solidarity, fairness and responsibility”.

The European Commission has already stated its intention to adapt its proposals for the MFF to reflect the “new situation outlook”.

It’s too early to tell how exactly Covid-19 will affect the MFF, and how that in turn will affect funding for the CAP, but fears have already been raised that an economic downturn in Europe as a result of the pandemic would result in member states being unwilling or unable to increase their contributions to the EU budget.

Furthermore, Irish MEP Billy Kelleher recently told AgriLand that it was possible that funding at an European level that is already earmarked for other purposes may be redirected to the Covid-19 response, thus putting further pressures on national budgets.

MFF progress

The progress on the MFF and the CAP budget is hampered by disruption to scheduled meetings of the European Council and the committees of the European Parliament.

Many such meetings have been postponed or cancelled as a result of Covid-19, with Brussels virtually “on lockdown”.

Before the pandemic hit, negotiations on the MFF had already hit a stumbling block.

In late February, a European Council summit on the MFF concluded without any agreement on the EU budget for 2021 to 2027.

Speaking at the end of that summit on February 21, European Council President Charles Michel said: “Unfortunately, today we have observed that it was not possible to reach an agreement. We have observed that we need more time.

“We have worked very hard to try to reconcile the different concerns, the different interests, the different opinions on the table. But we need more time. It means that we will see in the future how it is possible to work on this topic in order to succeed, in order to get an agreement in the council,” Michel had said at the time.

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