PositionHerman Van Rompuy

Two actors will be involved in bringing the 2014-2020 multiannual financial framework (MFF) home: European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and the Irish Presidency. The former will aim to bridge the gap between all member states, with a lot of work to be done on the revenue side. The latter will be in charge of making sure the European Parliament is on board and advancing the negotiations on the 67 sector-specific legislative acts, which provide a legal basis for all programmes, such as research, cohesion and agriculture, as far as possible.

No long-term EU budget negotiation among heads of state or government has ever ended in success at the first attempt. The European Council of 22-23 November 2012 was no exception. EU leaders stumbled over the overall size - too high for the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany - and the revenue side. The failure also revealed the strain in the Franco-German tandem, which was unable to find a common position.

In a statement, EU leaders consider that the talks during the November 2012 European Council "show a sufficient degree of potential convergence to make an agreement possible in the beginning of next year". The MFF could be on the agenda of the February summit or a special one could be convened in March. The general understanding is that anything beyond March is dangerous territory with the German federal elections scheduled in autumn 2013.

In the meantime, the European Council president, alongside his Commission counterpart, Jose Manuel Barroso, is tasked "to continue the work and pursue consultations in the coming weeks to find a consensus among the 27" on the MFF. The unanimity rule means that no member state can appear to be a massive loser.

Van Rompuy will therefore pick things up from where he left them. The starting point will be his second compromise (see box), which maintained the 81 billion cut in commitments to the Commission proposal - a cut in real terms of 2.5% compared to the current MFF - but pumped back up agricultural and cohesion spending ceilings (Headings 2 and 1b). Working from there the European Council president's team will discreetly sound out the capitals, far from the eye of the media so as to avoid a public debate, which could potentially radicalise national positions and make the bridging work harder.

Van Rompuy believes "a large number of countries" would have been able to support the broad lines of his second compromise. Indeed, by boosting the...

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