Vulcan Insight

“What happens in trilogues, stays in trilogues” no more

16 October 2020

With the European Parliament and the German Presidency of the Council of the EU deadlocked over the EU budget, fighting this week spilled over into a new arena – Twitter.

The European Union is well used to difficult and long-winded processes to reach agreements acceptable to every party involved. As a Union of 27 sovereign Member States, which often have to reach unanimous agreement on policy matters, the need to compromise is baked into the system.

This is equally the case for when the Council must negotiate legislation impacting the everyday lives of citizens and businesses. In special cases, such as the 2019 Copyright Directive, negotiations are difficult and take a long time, but generally stay behind closed doors.

So far, European politics has refrained from very public legislative spats, as have become the norm in the United States over past few years. In Brussels’ EU bubble there remained an unspoken equivalent of “what happens in trilogues, stays in trilogues,” as inter-institutional negotiations are called in EU-speak.

The internal discussions on the EU budget between the EU27 Governments, represented by the German Presidency, and a new European Parliament, intent on projecting its strength and independence, have been laid bare by the deep divisions on policy and political priorities between the two co-legislators on a broad range of issues. Aided by aggressive social media briefing campaigns, the fight has now spilled into the public arena.

Following the breakdown of last week’s negotiating round, Parliament Budget Committee’s Chair, Johan van Overtveldt, called on the Council to “come up with a more decent and better proposal.” . The Budget Committee’s official Twitter account kicked proceedings on Tuesday when it accused the German Presidency’s latest compromise proposal of “budgetary tricks” and requested a top-up of €39 billion for 15 spending programmes, a “paltry sum” in the context of the overall €1.8 trillion Budget and Recovery Fund, according to Parliament President David Sassoli.

In an exercise of failed “twiplomacy,” the German Presidency, in return, accused Parliament negotiators of miscalculations and employing budgetary tricks of their own to inflate their compromise proposal by an additional €50 billion. Budget MEPs, however, did not appreciate the Council public “misrepresentation” of their numbers, accusing it of deliberate “double-counting” and miscalculations.

Speaking to EU Heads of State and Government on the margin of this week’s European Council Summit, President Sassoli stressed that negotiations are stalled and reiterated his budget team’s demands that the German Presidency’s negotiating mandate must be updated in order to reach the necessary compromise to unlock the €1.8 trillion budget and Recovery Fund in order to return economic stability and growth. While Sassoli stressed that the Parliament’s position is “not about calling into question [EU leader’s] July [budget] agreement,” for Parliament negotiators it is clear that the blame for the current showdown lies with the European Council.