The EU is headed for fraught negotiations over the contributions made by the remaining member statesby Iain Begg / January 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
Have you ever wondered why the European Union was so insistent on the UK paying a sizeable divorce bill? There are several reasons behind the narrative about holding the UK to its obligations. Consider the two below.
First, the UK is a net contributor to the EU budget, so there will be a revenue shortfall after it leaves. Under the current Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF), setting out plans for spending over several years, EU funding is committed to the end of 2020 and a proportion of the bills for the 2014-2020 MFF will, quite properly, only be due for payment a number of years beyond the end of the period. There is an understandable expectation that Britain should contribute here.
Second, over the next couple of years the EU will, in parallel with Brexit, have to negotiate the next MFF, likely to run from 2021-2027. These budget negotiations are invariably difficult and acrimonious, setting member states against one another, and almost always resulting in a messy compromise.
The MFF negotiations are tough because they have to reconcile conflicting demands from member states and sectoral interest groups about how much to spend on particular programmes, while also keeping the net position of each country within politically acceptable bounds. There is always talk of focusing on expenditure with “European added value,” alongside the much more cynical calculus of the return to each country. Indeed, in the French expression commonly used in Brussels when discussing net contributions, juste retour, the word juste can be translated in two ways that reflect the underlying politics: as “fair’ or “exact.”
Britain’s gross contribution to the EU’s revenue—after deducting the rebate to arrive at what the UK actually “sends to Brussels,” as opposed to what you might have seen on the side of a red bus—has been of the order of €16bn in recent years, with some €6bn coming back through EU spending in the UK, principally on farm and fisheries support, regional development and research grants. The net UK contribution of around €10bn is the Brexit-sized hole in an EU budget which pays out around €140bn per year.
Without this €10bn net contribution, either other countries would have to pay more—good luck explaining this to the…