Lithuanian president prepares for 2nd round of EU budget talks

  • 2020-02-21
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS - Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda is preparing for a second round of tense talks on the European Union's 2021-2027 budget in Brussels on Friday amid continuing disagreement about how to compensate for Britain's departure.  

EU leaders began their talks on Thursday evening and held bilateral consultations with European Council President Charles Michel through the night and into early Friday morning. 

Nauseda met with Michel for one-on-one talks at around 4 a.m. Vilnius time, diplomatic sources confirmed to BNS.  

Diplomats said a new round might start at around noon Vilnius time, but it remains to be seen if EU leaders will discuss a new budget proposal or decide to defer the discussion to their next summit in the spring.

Two camps of member states emerged on the eve of the talks. While richer countries that contribute more money to the EU's coffers want a smaller budget, those that receive more funds want it to be more generous. 

The largest spending cut is sought by the so-called "frugal four" – the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria and Denmark. 

SOME PROGRESS ON COHESION FUNDING, BUT FARMERS WANT MORE 

Michel's blueprint, unveiled a week ago, envisaged a somewhat lower cut in Cohesion funding for Lithuania, compared with the previous proposals, but did not provide for a faster increase in direct payments to Baltic farmers.  

Lithuania could receive an additional 180 billion euros under a mechanism for compensating member countries that have suffered the biggest population loss in the past decade.  

The budget proposal calls for cutting Cohesion funding, which is aimed at helping poorer regions to catch up with the bloc's more developed regions, by up to 24 percent. 

Direct payments to Lithuanian farmers currently stand at around 170 euros per hectare, well below the EU average of around 259 euros. Under the European Commission's proposal, subsidies to Lithuanians would be gradually raised to just over 200 euros in 2027, or 78 percent of the EU average.

Nauseda promised Lithuanian farmers who staged a protest in Brussels on Thursday that he would press for direct payments to be increased to 196 euros in 2021, as agreed seven years ago.

Brussels officials say the 196-euro target could not be reached because of a significant increase in arable land areas in Lithuania over the period, noting that the amount of money was fixed based on earlier figures. 

Under the latest proposal, Lithuania would receive 490 million euros for the Ignalina plant decommissioning and would have to contribute 14 percent from the national budget.  The Lithuanian government sought 780 million euros.

Lithuania is also asking for more funding for the Kaliningrad transit scheme that sees 400,000 Russian citizens cross its territory under the facilitated procedure annually. The EU bodies currently propose 139 million euros for the scheme.  

Adding to the tensions is the loss of Britain's contribution to the EU budget. Cuts to Cohesion funding and farm subsidies are also made to finance new priorities, such as climate change, migration, common defense policy and security.