The Commission has suggested that the next package should be increased by about 10 percent but there was little sign on Friday that the governments with cash are willing to pay that.
“When the UK leaves the EU, then that part of the budget should drop out,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who leads a group of hawks including Sweden, Denmark and Austria.
“In any case, we do not want our contribution to rise and we want modernization,” he added, saying that meant reconsidering the EU’s major spending on agriculture and regional cohesion in order to do more in defense, research and controlling migration.
On the other side, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said his priorities were “sufficient financing of cohesion policy” a good deal for businesses from the EU’s agricultural subsidies.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there had been broad agreement that new priorities such as in defense, migration and research should get new funding and she called for a “debureaucratization” of traditional EU spending programmes.
Summit chair Donald Tusk praised the 27 leaders – Prime Minister Theresa May was not invited as Britain will have left before the new budget round starts – for approaching the issue “with open minds, rather than red lines”. But despite them all wanting to speed up the process, a deal this year was unlikely.
Although all agree it would be good to avoid a repeat of the 11th-hour wrangling ahead of the 2014-20 package, many sounded doubtful of a quick deal even early next year.
“It could go on for ages,” Rutte said. He added that it would be “nice” to finish by the May 2019 EU election: “But that’s very tight.”
Among the touchiest subjects will be accounting for the mass arrival of asylum-seekers in recent years. Aggrieved that some eastern states refuse to take in mainly Muslim migrants, some in the west have suggested penalizing them via the EU budget.
Merkel has proposed that regions which are taking in and trying to integrate refugees should have that rewarded in the allocation of EU funding – a less obviously penal approach but one which she had to defend on Friday against criticism in the east. It was not meant as a threat, the chancellor insisted.
In other business at a summit which reached no formal legal conclusions, leaders broadly agreed on some issues relating to next year’s elections to the European Parliament and to the accompanying appointment of a new Commission for five years.
They pushed back against efforts, notably from lawmakers, to limit their choice of nominee to succeed Juncker to a candidate who leads one of the pan-EU parties in the May 2019 vote. They approved Parliament’s plan to reallocate some British seats and to cut others altogether and also, barring Hungary, agreed to a Macron proposal to launch “consultations” with their citizens this year on what they want from the EU.