European agriculture could face up to a 30% cut in funding after the UK withdraws from the EU.
Speaking to journalists in Brussels on Wednesday, EU budget commissioner Günther Oettinger said Europe faces difficult budget choices as leaders begin to agree their next seven-year budgets.
The bloc’s remaining members must figure out how to address the funding gap left by the UK’s departure, as well as shifting spending priorities. The EU’s agriculture and cohesion fund programmes, which currently dominate the bloc’s spending, could face significant cuts to make way for “more pressing issues” including immigration, security, and defence policies.
Since Brexit will result in a significant loss to EU financing, the European Commission said the bloc must critically examine cuts in areas that may no longer be at the forefront of European citizens’ needs. Top priorities for most Europeans have changed significantly over the past few years, according to the commission, which requires a re-evaluation of many programmes.
“Budgets are not accounting years; they reflect our priorities and our ambitions. They are a translation of our future into figures,” said European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. “We need to start by debating what Europeans want. Next, the member states will have to match their financial means with their ambitions.”
Agriculture is one of two areas the commission has proposed significant cuts, with the second being the bloc’s cohesion policies. The commission has proposed two scenarios for the new budget, in which agricultural expenditures could either remain the same or decrease by 15-30%. The first option would maintain the status quo, with funds continuing to support all of Europe’s regions. The second would cut the budget by up to a third to help support less developed regions, such as Eastern Europe.
The commission urged EU leaders to agree their next seven-year budget ahead of the European Parliament elections next year, noting that a quick decision would benefit funding recipients, such as farmers and researchers. Oettinger emphasised the importance of making an early decision on the final budget, saying, “Farmers need to know if they will get funding.”
“Last time the decision was taken too late,” Oettinger added, referring to last-minute brinksmanship that occurred in talks between EU institutions in 2013. “Farmers didn’t have any certainty, our funds were jeopardised and we did not have clarity on what the EU budget funds.”
The decision will impact farmers across Europe. A 30% cut in agriculture spending could cause average farm income to decrease by more than 10% in several EU member states, with more pronounced income drops possible in specific sectors.
Oettinger said the EU’s funding decisions should respect the bloc’s core values. European citizens have frequently listed security and safety as their top priorities. The commission said border security requires a significant boost in spending. The bloc could either double the current expenditure of €4 billion to maximise the impact of control systems already in place, or increase it to €20-25 billion.
The second option would align EU border security procedures with systems that are used in the United States and Canada. It would also increase staff to twice the current amount and allow for an integrated system to control external borders.
Heads of state and government will debate the commission’s budget proposals on 23 February at an informal summit in Strasbourg. The deadline for the final draft of the 2021-2027 budget has been set for early May.