Berlin 'secretly backs' UK's EU budget proposal

12th December 2005, Comments 0 comments

12 December 2005, BERLIN - Germany's government, which is the European Union's biggest paymaster, secretly backs a budget proposal by British Prime Minister Tony Blair for the bloc that has otherwise been rejected by member states, a report said Sunday.

12 December 2005

BERLIN - Germany's government, which is the European Union's biggest paymaster, secretly backs a budget proposal by British Prime Minister Tony Blair for the bloc that has otherwise been rejected by member states, a report said Sunday.

Britain is due to present a revamped version of its controversial 847 billion euro (992 billion dollar) budget for the period 2007 to 2013 at a meeting of E.U. foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.

Publicly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says London's blueprint is unacceptable because it cuts spending aimed at helping the new east European member states while failing to sufficiently trim the annual British E.U. budget rebate worth 5 billion euros.

But privately the Merkel government backs Blair because it is determined to stabilise or reduce the amount of money Germany gives to the E.U. each year. Berlin is the bloc's biggest paymaster contributing about 20 per cent the E.U. budget.

"Deep in our hearts we want the British recommendations to be accepted," said an unnamed German official quoted by the Frankfurter Allgemeine am Sonntag newspaper.

Britain currently holds the rotating E.U. presidency.

German officials have taken European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to task for leading the charge against the British proposal which he slammed as "unacceptable" and "unfair".

"The German government made a few phone calls to Barroso to request he moderate his tone - and now he's behaving and talking about 'chances for an agreement'," said the authoritative newspaper.

Monday's foreign minister meeting will be the last chance to clinch any framework agreement before the 25 E.U. leaders meet for the regular December session in Brussels on December 15 and 16.

Budget debates are always acrimonious in the E.U. and many observers doubt whether a deal will be reached during the summit.

Failure to agree would force the Austrian government to take over efforts to hammer out a budget deal when it holds the presidency during the first half of next year.

The E.U. is wrapping a year of embarrassing debacles, and failure for a show of unity on the budget would pitch the 25-nation bloc deeper into crisis.

Leaders tried and failed to clinch a budget deal at a summit last June just weeks after voters in France and the Netherlands dealt what was probably a death blow to the E.U. constitution by rejecting it in national referendums.

"There is huge pressure on this upcoming summit," said Germany's European Commissioner for Industry, Guenter Verheugen in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, adding: "This is not just about the budget but rather about the overall crisis in which we find ourselves."

Reaction from the bloc's central and eastern European newcomers over the budget wrangles has also been especially angry, with Poland and the Baltic states leading complaints that British plans for cuts in their aid programmes runs counter to intra-E.U. "solidarity".

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said the new members were still struggling to build up their economies which rely on E.U. aid.

"New members are very alarmed over the delayed agreement over the E.U. budget," said Vike-Freiberga in a Welt am Sonntag interview.

London has until now said the seven-year E.U. budget should be no higher than 847 billion euros. This is a sharp reduction of the 1 trillion euro budget proposal made by the European Commission and the 871 billion euro package which failed to win approval last June.

The British proposal entails painful spending cuts which will especially hurt new member states from central and eastern Europe.

A total of 14 billion euros would be slashed from the budget for the newcomers and 7 billion euros deducted from provisions for rural development.

France has fiercely rejected British calls over the past year for a financing review to reduce the 10 billion euro annual farm subsidies that Paris receives from Brussels.

DPA

Subject: German news

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