The European Commission unveiled its draft 2017 EU budget Thursday after keeping it under wraps in the run-up to Britain’s referendum on membership of the bloc.
The new plan, presented to the European Parliament by Commission Vice President Kristalina Georgieva, includes commitments to spend €157 billion next year — around 75 percent of which will go to the EU’s agricultural policy and regional development funding. But it also includes new spending of €5.2 billion to deal with Europe’s migration crisis, including on strengthening external border controls.
The Commission said the official reason for the delay in presenting the budget to the European Parliament — which was originally set for May — was the need to account for the new migration spending. But sources in the Commission, the Parliament and the Council said the EU executive arm had feared that discussion of the budget before the British referendum would be red meat for the Leave campaign in Britain, which harshly criticized EU spending.
After the result of the vote to quit the EU became clear on Friday, Commission sources said some officials argued it would be inappropriate to discuss the budget so soon — especially since there could be spending ramifications of the Brexit process. Under the EU treaties the Commission is supposed to submit a draft budget by July 1.
The Council of Ministers and the European Parliament pushed the Commission to present a version this week, the sources said, so that budget specialists in the Council and MEPs could amend it. A Council source said EU diplomats hoped to reach a compromise by the end of July, which will be vetted by EU ministers by the beginning of September and become the subject of negotiation with the Parliament.
The Commission proposal reduces payments for 2017 by €9 billion, because in past years member countries have not been spending budgeted funds quickly enough. “We did not have enough bills to pay,” said Georgieva.
MEPs, who also have to approve the budget, are particularly worried about the growing gap between commitments and payments, which reached a record €30 billion in late 2014.
Asked by MEPs about how the Brexit vote would affect the budget, Georgieva said there would be no special treatment for Britain next year. “The U.K. remains a member, all rights and obligations,” she said.
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