In December 2018, the European Council discussed the details of the next MFF for the first time, welcoming the intensive preparatory work carried out by the Council in 2018. In addition to a progress report, the Austrian presidency produced a draft negotiating box, a technical tool that lists issues to be addressed and related options with a view to facilitating an agreement. EU leaders invited the Romanian presidency to continue this technical work and develop an orientation for the negotiations during the first semester of 2019, setting the objective to reach an agreement in the European Council in autumn 2019.
The December 2018 conclusions of the European Council mean that the ambitious timeline initially proposed by the Commission and supported by the European Parliament in its resolutions will not be met. In its contribution ahead of the summit, the Commission acknowledged progress made on the negotiations so far, but already outlined an updated timeline. The document urged leaders to reach agreement on the MFF in October 2019 and to work closely with Parliament, recalling the negative impact that a delayed adoption would have on the implementation of future programmes.
According to some observers, the new timeline with an agreement planned for autumn 2019 (see Figure 18) may prove equally difficult. Such analyses point not only to the various challenging issues on which an agreement has to be reached (e.g. size of the budget, spending priorities and conditionality linked to the rule of law), but also to possible institutional delays, since decisions on five key EU appointments have to be made in the second half of 2019.
The unanimity requirement for the adoption of the MFF regulation in the Council remains an important challenge for such a broad proposal, with groups of Member States traditionally reported to have differing views on various elements. In addition, some analysts argue that the new background characterising the negotiations for the post-2020 period could trigger cleavages within traditional coalitions. The European Parliament has called on the European Council to make the process smoother, by activating the passerelle clause of the Treaty, which would allow the Council to act by qualified majority in this domain.