Critics turn on UK bid to end EU budget row

6th December 2005, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, Dec 5 (AFP) - Critics rounded on new British proposals to end the EU's bitter budget row Monday as "unacceptable," although some admitted that they offered a step forward towards a deal at a crunch summit next week.

BRUSSELS, Dec 5 (AFP) - Critics rounded on new British proposals to end the EU's bitter budget row Monday as "unacceptable," although some admitted that they offered a step forward towards a deal at a crunch summit next week.

European Commission chief José Manuel Barroso slammed the new plans as unfair to the European Union's poorer newcomers, while Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said they breached "the principle of solidarity".

"As it is, the UK (EU) presidency proposal is unacceptable. It is simply not realistic. This proposal amounts to a budget for a 'mini Europe', not the strong Europe that we need," Barroso said in Brussels.

The British proposals, unveiled by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in London, are aimed at breaking a budget deadlock in time for an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday of next week.

The main stumbling blocks have been Britain's refusal to surrender its long-cherished rebate, and French resistance to calls for reform of generous farm subsidies.

In the new proposals, Britain pledged to forgo eight billion euros of its EU rebate in 2007-13 to help cover the cost of enlargement. In addition funds for the new EU member states -- mostly ex-communist countries which joined the bloc in May 2004 -- would be shaved by seven to eight percent.

Poland's Marcinkiewicz, reacting within minutes of the detailed 35-page new proposal being unveiled, dismissed it bluntly. "In this form the budget is not acceptable to us," he said.

"This budget does not abide by the principle of solidarity," he added.

Poland was due to receive EUR 60bn between 2007 and 2013 under a budget package presented by the previous Luxembourg presidency. The new proposals would reduce that by between EUR 4.2bn and EUR 6.4bn.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said the British plan did "not seem likely to bring the agreement we all want".

"This budget does not abide by the principle of solidarity," he added.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Diogo Freitas do Amaral also rejected the proposals calling them "very worrying", and demanded Britain hand over more of the rebate.

The leaders of Germany, Italy and Belgium, declined to comment immediately saying they had not had time to study the details.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, whose compromise proposals failed to reach a budget agreement at a June summit, sounded a cautiously upbeat note.

Specifically he called the new proposal "potentially successful, if our central European colleagues could agree to it -- which I still don't really see .. and if the British delegation (made) extra efforts on the British rebate."

Dutch Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm, whose country is a key contributor to the EU budget, was also cautiously positive, calling it "a small step forward but not enough."

"We'll have a serious look at it," he told reporters in Brussels.

Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek also guardedly welcomed the British plans, saying the proposal to cut funds for the newcomers could be offset by moves to relax the rules for getting the funds.

"That was the experience that the EU had with countries that gradually joined, such as Portugal, Spain, Greece or Ireland," Paroubek said in a brief statement.

But in Brussels, Barroso said there was a fundamental contradiction between wanting the EU to play a bigger global role while cutting its funding.

"Some people say ... 'we need a Europe with ambition in terms of trade, in terms of dimension, in terms of competitiveness'. But afterwards when it comes to the financial means there is no ambition at all," he argued.

A French diplomat in Brussels lamented that under the new British proposals EU funds would be directed "not to finance joint solidarity policies, but to ensure that the British rebate is maintained at a very high level."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

 

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