Major contributors to the European Union's budget blocked progress at an emergency summit today, insisting that they would not stump up more funds for the bloc's next long-term spending package, worth around one trillion euros.
The so-called "Frugal Four'' of Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden believe the EU's 2021-2027 budget, which is meant to fund ambitious climate change and digital economy policies, should amount to 1 percent of the 27-nation trading bloc's gross national income.
EU Council President Charles Michel, who met with EU leaders throughout the night trying to broker a compromise, has tabled a draft budget of 1.074 percent of GNI. The European Parliament wants an ambitious 1.3 perent, while the EU's powerful executive arm, the European Commission, prefers 1.11 percent.
"I can understand that when you're a prime minister in a country that has poor regions, infrastructures, I can understand that ... but when it comes to the percentage, I stand firm,'' Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told reporters in Brussels Friday.
Asked whether the standoff can be resolved, Frederiksen said "no, I don't think so. I'm willing to stay, and I'm prepared to stay the whole weekend. But no, I don't think we're going to reach an agreement.''
She said that another summit would be required, probably in early March.
As he left European Union headquarters in the wee hours of the morning today, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters: "I'm going to bed.''
Rutte departed with a biography of Chopin tucked under his arm _ a prop to suggest that he would probably be reading rather than talking about softening his position.
Broadly speaking, the "Frugal Four'' with the backing of Germany are lined up against the "Friends of Cohesion,'' a group of mainly central and eastern European nations who want to see the continued flow of "cohesion funds'' _ money earmarked to help develop poorer regions.
"If we want to find an agreement, I think everybody has to be flexible. It cannot be the way that one or some countries try to dictate the outcome,'' said Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin. Asked about the chances of a breakthrough, she said: "It looks quite difficult, the situation.''
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel rejected any talk of failure but said that "if everybody just calculates what he pays and what he gets then we will never come out.''
Bettel underlined the importance of focusing on the advantages that the EU brings. "In '57 when we created Europe, we realized maybe sometimes (it's better) to give something up or to pay something to have something bigger tomorrow.''-AP