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1ST LEAD EU leaders divided over tying funds to accepting refugees By Emoke Bebiak, dpa

Europe
23.02.2018
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Brussels (dpa) - EU leaders were divided over the idea of introducing new conditions for receiving EU funds, including showing solidarity over the redistribution of refugees, as they met on Friday for initial talks on the European Union‘s long-terms budget plans.

The informal summit, bringing together the heads of the 27 EU states that will remain after Britain‘s departure in March 2019, is the beginning of a long and likely contentious debate over the EU budget with capitals sparring over a 14-billion-euro (17.2 billion dollar) Brexit funding gap and future spending priorities.

Adding to the debate is an initiative by certain countries, notably Germany, to tie EU funds going to poorer countries in the bloc to fulfilling certain conditions, including accepting refugees.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told German lawmakers on Thursday that the distribution criteria for EU money should "in the future also reflect the commitment of many regions and municipalities in the reception and integration of migrants."

Her proposal got a mixed reception from other EU leaders on Friday.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said the sole purpose of EU funds was to integrate poorer countries of the EU - a position that had been voiced by other Central and Eastern European countries, such as Poland and Hungary, in the past.

"Today, under the treaties, the cohesion funds and structural funds, the purpose of them is better convergence - [they are] not for anything else," Grybauskaite said.

Luxembourg‘s Prime Minister Xavier Better also seemed critical of Merkel‘s proposal.

"Who will be punished afterwards? Not the governments, but the citizens," Bettel said.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that there was "certain merit" to the German proposal, but his country still needed to study it.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz noted he could "understand in principle" the idea of conditionality, but he asked countries "not to constantly focus on refugees."

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned that he did not want divisions over the budget to cause a deeper rift between member states in the East and the West.

"I do not want a new split in Europe, we have had enough of that," he said.

Before the summit, European Council President Donald Tusk noted it was important to start negotiations, reminding leaders that deciding on the budget for the 2014-20 period took 29 months.

This time around, EU elections in spring 2019 make the timing of the process more complicated.

Tusk acknowledged that finding an agreement on the budget with the current European Parliament would be "unrealistic," adding that the more realistic option would be to reach a deal among leaders "in the course of 2019" and strike an agreement with the incoming parliament.

The leaders are also discussing institutional changes.

They are expected to approve plans to reduce the number of parliamentary seats from 751 to 705 following Brexit, cutting 46 of Britain‘s 73 seats and reassigning the rest to under-represented countries.

The discussion will also include the so-called Spitzenkandidaten system, in which the head of the European Commission would need to be picked from among the lead candidates proposed by Europe‘s political groups.

 

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