The discussions on the European Union's budget framework for 2014-2020 (the Multiannual Financial Framework, MFF) have entered a new phase: at its meeting on 26 March 2012 the General Affairs Council for the first time discussed the "negotiating box" that contains the most central issues and options.
The negotiating box covered four categories of expenditure (known as "headings"): heading 1 “Smart and inclusive growth” (except for cohesion policy and the Connecting Europe Facility), heading 3 “Security and citizenship”, heading 4 “Global Europe” (EU's external action) and heading 5 (administration).
"Our task is simple, but difficult: to agree on a budget that creates growth and jobs all over Europe, and at the same time ensure the much-needed fiscal discipline," said Nicolai Wammen, the Danish minister for European Affairs who chaired the meeting. "That is also why the MFF is likely to be the most important decision that we will make this year", he said.
At the discussion several delegations underlined that the MFF and each of its headings need to reflect the national fiscal consolidation efforts, but many member states stressed that at the same time it was important to ensure appropriate financing of current EU policies that foster growth and enhance cohesion.
Member states broadly support programmes for growth and employment (heading 1) and a large number of delegations consider internal security and migration to be the priorities for heading 3.
Many delegations acknowledged the added value of EU external policies (heading 4) and called for savings in administrative expenditure (heading 5).
The negotiating box will be continuously updated. It will serve as the basis for a final political agreement on the financial framework, which the European Council is expected to take by the end of the year.
April 2012: The member states will hold an orientation debate at the General Affairs Council meetings on the negotiating box, covering cohesion policy, the Connecting Europe Facility and heading 2 ("sustainable growth: natural resources and own resources").
From May 2012 onwards: Regular discussion on the negotiating box covering all aspects of the budget framework 2014-2020 in the Council preparatory bodies and at ministerial level.
June 2012: The European Council will discuss the negotiating box at its meeting scheduled for 28 and 29 June.
Ministers' debate (video)
Press conference webcast (video)
Multiannual financial framework for 2014-2020 (on Europe website)