Public Debate with Ambassador Thomas Ossowski, Special Representative for the Negotiations on the MFF

On 6 June 2018, Ambas­sador Thomas Ossowski, Special Repre­sen­tative for the Negoti­a­tions on the Multi­annual Financial Framework and Director for EU Policies at the German Federal Foreign Office, spoke at a Public Debate at the Repre­sen­tation of the European Commission in Berlin on the “Perspec­tives on the negoti­a­tions on the Multi­annual Financial Framework”. Richard Kühnel, Head of the European Commission in Germany gave the greeting. The event was moderated by Prof. Dr. Mathias Jopp, Director of the Institute for European Politics (IEP).

Mr. Kühnel made the impor­tance of the topic of this Public Debate clear right at the beginning. Imagine an EU where hundreds of thousands of students would not receive an Erasmus grant, because Member States could not agree on the budgetary framework. Mathias Jopp took up the thread and accen­tuated the tight timeframe for the Multi­annual Financial Framework (MFF) to be ready by the European Parliament Election 2019. In addition, “strong centrifugal forces within the EU” could make the negoti­a­tions even more difficult. He referred to the Brexit, Euro-critical govern­ments in the EU and the spread of populism. In his forth­coming presen­tation, Ambas­sador Ossowski commented on the Commission proposal, explaining the German prior­ities and referring to the already detailed sectoral regula­tions. In general, he described the Commission proposal as ambitious, but also as a “good starting point” for further negoti­a­tions. Instead of asking for 1% of the gross national income of the states as a contri­bution to the EU, the Commission wants to increase the share to 1.11%. This not only has to do with the loss of Great Britain as a strong net contributor. Rather, the Union faces decisive macrop­o­litical align­ments, for example in migration and security policy that demand modern and flexible solutions. It is also about simpli­fying European investment programmes, a better linking of struc­tural reforms to struc­tural funds, or changing the Berlin formula used to calculate national turnovers in cohesion policy: Ossowski under­lined the fact that with the loss of Great Britain, all countries would have to pay a higher fee in the future. The EU Commission also proposed a rule of law mechanism that would allow the Commission to check whether EU spending could be achieved in a consti­tu­tionally sound and healthy environment. Germany would welcome the under­lying idea that the EU should continue to under­stand itself more as a community of values. In general, he made clear that the German government was open to many of the Commis­sion’s innova­tions. As always, time pressure was a crucial element in the negoti­a­tions. However, it would be desirable to conclude the negoti­a­tions before the European Parliament elections in 2019.

The subse­quent, lively discussion partic­i­pants often asked for the feasi­bility of the Commission proposals. The withdrawal of Great Britain, for example, was taken up as an issue as it was asked if the missing contri­bu­tions were really so easy to handle. “We have no other choice,” countered Ossowski, stressing the challenges of the inter­na­tional situation in the 21st century and the need to under­stand the reori­en­tation of the MFF as a response to these devel­op­ments. The feasi­bility of linking EU funding to rule-of-law condi­tions in the Member States was a contro­versial topic as well during the discussion.

In total, the Public Debate stood only at the beginning of the negoti­a­tions of the MFF, so that the topic will stay on top of the European political agenda for some time to come.

Author: Florian Lange

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