EU budget talks 'won't be that simple': Steinmeier
7 December 2005, BRUSSELS - European Union foreign ministers opened talks Wednesday with most member states bashing Britain's controversial proposal for the 25-nation bloc's 2007-2013 budget.
7 December 2005
BRUSSELS - European Union foreign ministers opened talks Wednesday with most member states bashing Britain's controversial proposal for the 25-nation bloc's 2007-2013 budget.
So far only the Czech Republic has expressed support for the 847 billion euro budget proposed by Britain which currently holds the rotating E.U. presidency. All other states have said the package is not acceptable.
The budget, which must be unanimously approved by E.U. leaders, will dominate the bloc's December 15 to 16 summit in the Belgian capital.
"These are going to be tough negotiations," Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plasnik told reporters as she entered the one-day conclave, adding: "Take it or leave it is not an adequate method."
Spanish Deputy Foreign Minister Alberto Navarro called on Britain to listen to complaints and come up with new proposals by Wednesday.
Asked if she thought Britain was an honest broker in the budget clash, E.U. budget commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite, admitted: "We would hope for someone more honest."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was slightly more upbeat.
"I am not without confidence ... but it won't be that simple," he said.
Setting the scene for Wednesday's meeting, an E.U. diplomat said the gathering would likely be a "collective bashing" of the British blueprint aimed at forcing major changes in the text by next week.
But like many in Brussels, the diplomat expressed cautious optimism that a deal could be clinched next week.
Seeking to defuse the row, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw insisted "we recognise this is a difficult situation for all of us." He insisted, however, the British proposals were "the best basis for a settlement."
Reaction from the bloc's central and eastern European newcomers has been especially angry, with Poland leading complaints that British plans for cuts in their aid programmes runs counter to intra-E.U. "solidarity".
Critics say there is not much to like in what London is offering. Overall E.U. spending under the British proposal is reduced to 847 billion euros, 14 billion euros are being slashed in aid to new member states and 7 billion euros deducted from provisions for rural development.
As a sweetener London is offering to stump up an extra 8 billion euros over seven years against Britain's annual rebate to soften the cuts for the E.U.'s ten new, and poorest, members.
However, this would be dwarfed by the British budget refund which would continue to rise from an annual average of 5 billion euros currently to around 7 billion euros under the new plan.
Many E.U. governments believe this is still too high given that Britain is no longer the poor country it was when the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher won the rebate in the early 1980s. London, they say, needs to shoulder more of the burden of helping to overhaul the economy, infrastructure and environment in the new eastern European member states.
"The new budget should not mean the poorest giving money to the rich," said Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.
France is also set to draw a red line around British calls for a financing review, and possible "adjustments" to farms subsidies in 2008.
French President Jacques Chirac has rejected British calls for a reduction of his country's 10 billion euro annual farm subsidies which London had previously demanded in exchange for surrendering its rebate.
Another summit failure, following an unsuccessful attempt to agree the budget in June, will mean financial uncertainty and chaos, especially for poorer countries which rely on E.U. aid schemes.
Subject: German news