Funding for the bloc’s flagship projects should be cut instead of expecting remaining member states to make up the difference, Austria’s finance chief insisted as chinks in the EU’s united front appear.
The EU27 have repeatedly followed the bloc’s lead as Brexit negotiations continue, but the issue of the budget shortfall once Britain leaves has highlighted division.
Gernot Blümel, Austria’s finance chief, said: “It can not be that the EU is smaller and that the budget is greater.”
He made the comments after meeting with EU finance boss Günther Oettinger, who has been tasked with drawing up the bloc’s next six-year budget minus the hefty contributions made by the UK.
But despite Britain’s impending departure, Brussels is reportedly considering upping its current £852bn (€960bn) spend.
Mr Oettinger, along with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, are hoping richer member states which pay more into the bloc than they get out will dig deep and make up the billions paid in by the UK.
But Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands and now Austria have insisted they are not prepared to fill the gap.
All five nations, like Britain, are classed as ‘net contributors’ to the EU.
In order to pass the 2021-2027 budget, all 27 remaining member states need to agree.
Following the talks in Vienna today, which also involved Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Mr Oettinger said: “When it comes to money, there is a dispute.”
However he said the EU is ready to cut back on some of its landmark schemes, such as its cohesion policy which provides massive investment to the bloc’s poorest regions.
Net contributor nations are responsible for funding this policy, which is designed to improve living standards, modernise infrastructure and boost economic growth.
Mr Oettinger said: ”We will have to cut moderately but considerably with almost all programmes of the EU budget.”
But officials in Brussels are still scratching their heads over how to make up the £11.5bn paid in by the UK.
And other essential projects, including border security and funding to handle inward migration, is expected to run to a further £8.85bn (€10bn)
Options on the table include an EU-wide plastic tax, changes to its carbon emissions scheme and a hike in the cost of entering the bloc for non-EU nationals.
The EU will submit a draft for its long-term budget in May.
(Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg.)