Bulgaria denies eastern EU agreement on upping EU budget payments

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The European Commission budget chief thanked a group of eastern EU members that he said had agreed on Friday to increase contributions to the bloc's budget, but one of them, Bulgaria denied it had made any such undertaking.

Eight Eastern European EU states met in Hungary to discuss the bloc's next budget plan - which will suffer from net contributor Britain's departure - and other issues with Budget Commissioner Guenther Oettinger.
After the meeting, the host country and the commissioner said they had agreed to support an increase in payments by member states to help fill the Brexit budget hole.
Oettinger said last month that the next EU budget should increase from around 1 percent of EU output to slightly more than 1.1 percent, to make up for funds the bloc will no longer receive from Britain.
"I am extremely grateful for the eight member states that they were willing to contribute a bit more," he told a news conference at which an aide to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the agreement was "a major success of the day".
A few hours later, however, Bulgaria denied it had agreed to bigger budget contributions.
"Bulgaria has not expressed a position to increase the country's contribution to EU membership," the finance ministry said in a statement.
"The government states that such a position has not been discussed in any working or official format for negotiation between the member states and the European Commission."
In January, Bulgaria assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the EU for the first time since it joined in 2007 and the finance ministry said the country would host conferences on the budget issue in March and June.
Britain's exit in March next year will deprive Brussels of some 12 billion euros from an annual budget now running around 140 billion euros.
That hole has already prompted sparring between other net contributors in the West, which do not want to make up the shortfall, and the ex-communist Eastern states, which say they should not suffer from cuts in EU funding.
The eastern states are mostly net recipients of EU funds, and worried that a shortfall in the bloc's budget would leave them with less cash.
The largest source of revenue in the EU's budget is a uniform percentage levied on the gross national income (GNI) of each member country.
Lazar, Prime Minister Orban's chief of staff, said at the news conference that the eight countries - Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania - had "agreed with the increasing of the GNI-proportionate payment".
"The eight countries opened the opportunity that the payment should increase even up to 1.1 percent (of GNI)."

(Reporting by Krisztina Than, additional reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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