News2020.02.20 11:31

Lithuania in EU budget talks: Ignalina NPP, farmers and depopulation in focus

Vaidotas Beniušis, BNS 2020.02.20 11:31

As Lithuanian president heads for budget talks in Brussels, farmers from the three Baltic countries are set to protest outside the European Parliament.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda arrived in Brussels on Thursday for EU budget talks that will determine the bloc's finances for the next seven years.

Read more: Lithuania in for ‘shock therapy’ as EU funding drops

In addition to agricultural payments, Nausėda will focus on three other areas in the talks: the so-called Cohesion support aimed at helping poorer regions to catch up with the bloc's more developed regions, and funding for the Ignalina nuclear power plant's decommissioning and for the Kaliningrad transit scheme.

Compensation for population loss

Discussions on the bloc's 2021-2027 budget have been underway for several years now.

The first proposal was put forward by the European Commission in 2018 and was later updated by Finland which held the EU's rotating presidency in the second half of 2019. The latest blueprint was unveiled by European Council President Charles Michel last week.

Read more: East and west battle over EU budget

Michel's blueprint provides for a somewhat lower cut in Cohesion funding for Lithuania, accoridng to reports seen by BNS, compared with the previous proposals, but offers no good news for farmers demanding a more rapid increase in direct payments.

Cohesion funding for Lithuania may be reduced by 24 percent from the 2014-2020 period.

The latest proposal also envisages additional funds for countries with big population losses. BNS estimates that Lithuania would receive around 180 million euros under the formula.

According to diplomats, Finland's proposal called for slashing Cohesion funding for Lithuania by 27 percent.

Read more: Lithuania and other countries prepare to challenge EU's Mobility Package in court

In a move that would ease the pressure on national budgets, the latest proposal raises the maximum possible rate of EU co-financing to 75 percent of a project's total cost, up from 70 percent previously.

After Lithuania was split into two regions – the more developed Vilnius region and the rest of Lithuania – the funding would apply outside the capital only.

Farmers to make demands

Informed sources told BNS that Michel's blueprint provides for increasing direct payments to Baltic farmers at the same rate as that proposed by the European Commission. Based on preliminary estimates, subsidies to Lithuanians could gradually be raised to reach over 200 euros per hectare of land in 2027, or 80 percent of the EU average.

Michel also suggests allowing member states to reallocate more funds from the rural development programme toward direct payments, but Lithuanian diplomats said on the eve of the talks that this would not essentially change the situation.

Read more: Cutting EU cohesion funding for Lithuania unfair, FM says

In Brussels, Lithuanian farmers will ask Nausėda to press for direct payments to be brought up to the bloc's average level at a much faster rate.

Around 300 Baltic farmers, including 180 from Lithuania, are expected to take part in the rally in Brussels which is organised by the Lithuanian Agricultural Council. Several German, French and Austrian farmers are also expected to join the protest.

Under the latest proposal, Lithuania would receive 490 million euros for the Ignalina nuclear plant’s decommissioning and would have to contribute 14 percent from the national budget.

The European Commission suggested allocating 552 million euros, but Lithuania would have had to contribute 20 percent. The Lithuanian government sought 780 million euros.

Read more: Smaller pie more difficult to split – Lithuanian ambassador on EU's post-Brexit budget

Lithuania is also asking for more funding for the Kaliningrad transit scheme that sees 400,000 Russian citizens cross its territory under the facilitated procedure annually. The EU bodies currently propose 139 million euros for the scheme, compared with 215 million euros sought by Lithuania.

Lithuania and the other two Baltic countries also expect to secure funding for the European-gauge railway Rail Baltica and the synchronisation of their power grids with the Continental European system.

Nausėda 'reserved' in his expectations

The Lithuanian president said on the eve of the summit that he was "reserved" in his expectations, describing the new proposal as "only a small step forward in an effort to reconcile the diverging interests of member states".

According to diplomats, if no deal is reached this week, another summit could be held in March.

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