(GUA) EU commission president dismisses idea UK has changed its mind on leaving as he urges members to plug €13bn-a-year gap.
Jean-Claude Juncker has dismissed the idea that the UK has changed its mind on Brexit and urged the remaining 27 EU member states to agree to pay more to fill the soon-to-be €13bn (£11.5bn) annual hole in its budget.
At an event with finance ministers to discuss the next period of EU spending, the European commission president made his case for the countries to be ambitious and increase the amount they send to Brussels for EU programmes, rather than lower its ambitions.
Speaking to an audience in Brussels after a BMG poll indicated 51% of Britons supported remaining in the EU, as opposed to 41% in favour of Brexit, he said: “There is going to be Brexit, of course.
“Don’t believe those who say that it’s not going to happen and that people have realised their error in the UK. I don’t think that is going to be the case.
“My working hypothesis is that the British are going to be leaving us on 30 March 2019. So between now and then, we need to do our utmost to fund the means to react to the loss of a significant number of billions of euros.”
At the end of a transition period likely to be between the end of March 2019 and 31 December 2020, the EU will be left with an annual structural spending gap of €12bn-€13bn.
The commission is making the case that a 50:50 mix of “fresh money” and cuts can be used to cover Britain’s withdrawal from the EU’s seven-year multiannual financial framework.
Juncker said he wanted EU member states to agree on a plan by May to spend more than the current 1% of GDP to maintain the vast majority of current programmes and meet future challenges, such as terrorism and climate change.
“It is difficult when a net contributor leaves the budget coffers of Europe. I’m not at all in favour of Europe becoming the place where it is free beer for everybody without having checked first what exactly one is funding,” he said.
“But I am very much in favour of looking very closely at all policies. What we need has to stay, has to be funded. It costs the European taxpayer one cup of coffee a day, that’s all. And I think Europe is [worth] more than one cup of coffee a day.”
The German budget commissioner, Günther Oettinger, told those assembled he wanted “1.1 something” [per cent] of GDP and he would fight to spend more on two programmes in particular: Erasmus, to fund student exchanges, and Horizon, which commits money for research.
“I know 50% fresh money is too much for some of you. For others, [it] is not enough. But at the end of the day, we all have to agree together. We need to get 27 governments on board … parliaments at a national level. They all have to agree,” he said.
“Everybody has to be ready to strike a compromise. If you just have a rigid position of your own, we will not be capable of reaching agreement. Once the Brits have sadly left then I think it will be a sign of good governance to act and do this.”
Germany’s foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said he could not speak for Berlin because coalition negotiations were continuing, but he supported the commission’s ambition. “We are all net beneficiaries,” he said, adding that he believed in “better spending and spending more”.
Nathalie Loiseau, France’s minister for European affairs, said the EU would benefit from the end of Britain’s rebate. “This expression ‘we want our money back’ is a expression we no longer want to hear,” she said.