Blair leaves Paris in 'sharp disagreement' with Chirac

14th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 14 (AFP) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted Tuesday that this week's EU summit was unlikely to resolve the raging row over how the bloc is financed, citing "sharp disagreement" with French President Jacques Chirac over the massive farm budget.

PARIS, June 14 (AFP) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted Tuesday that this week's EU summit was unlikely to resolve the raging row over how the bloc is financed, citing "sharp disagreement" with French President Jacques Chirac over the massive farm budget.  

Speaking after an hour of talks here with Chirac, Blair also said it was time for a "period of reflection" in Europe after the French and Dutch "no" votes on the EU constitution "so that we can give Europe the debate it needs and the direction it needs."  

Blair was in Paris on the last leg of a four-nation tour originally focussing on issues such as global warming and African debt relief which will be on the agenda of the Group of Eight summit in Scotland next month.  

But the trip was overshadowed by a bitter row over budget contributions to the EU, with Blair strenuously resisting French demands that Britain's EUR 5 billion (USD 6 billion) annual rebate from European coffers be submitted for renegotiation.  

In a press conference at the British embassy, Blair said that "obviously there is sharp disagreement (and) it is difficult to see these differences being bridged" when the 25 heads of state and government meet on Thursday and Friday.  

He repeated the British line that the rebate - which was won by Margaret Thatcher in 1984 - can only be renegotiated as part of a broader rethink of European spending policy, including the 40 percent of the budget that currently goes on farm subsides.  

Chirac has refused to countenance any change to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of which France is by far the biggest beneficiary, and whose financing is assured up to 2013 under a deal worked out with Germany's help three years ago.  

"There cannot be an agreement on (the rebate) that does not involve reconsideration of the fundamentals.... It's difficult to see how you can have a change in fundamentals that doesn't make a change in the Common Agricultural Policy," Blair said.  

But he said it would not be a "crisis" if the summit failed to reach a deal on the EU's future financing, because the budget under discussion does not come into effect until 2007.  

Blair said he hoped the leaders would agree to a "period of reflection" of several months following the French and Dutch referendums. He said he detected a "change of mood" over the last 48 hours as a result of which some countries were considering shelving plans for a vote on the constitution.  

In what appeared a broad statement of policy ahead of Britain's assumption of the rotating EU presidency in July, Blair said that the rejection of the constitution was an "opportunity" to set a new course for the continent.  

"If we want to reconnect people in Europe with the idea of the European Union, then we have got to set a new political direction ... and reconnect the priorities which the people have in Europe with the way we spend money in Europe.  

"We spend on agriculture probably ten times what we spend on science, technology, research, development or training ... What I object to is the EU deciding collectively that it will put 40 percent of its budget into an area where you have two percent of employment. It doesn't make sense.  

"It's no longer possible to run Europe the way it used to be run, it's got to be run on a different basis," he said.  

"We need a strong Europe, but it's got to be a strong Europe of the right kind. The Franco-German relationship is very important but it cannot comprise all of what now drives Europe forward."  

British officials believe that Chirac is playing up the rebate issue as a diversion from his own political weakness following France's shock rejection of the constitution on May 29. But all other member states agree with the French view that the size of the British rebate is no longer justified.  

Analysts either side of the channel say the row has plunged Franco-British relations to their lowest point since the Iraq war two years ago, but in a show of warmth before the cameras, Chirac personally escorted Blair to his waiting car at the Elysee palace.

© AFP

Subject: French News

 

 

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