'Firm' Blair to confront Chirac in Paris

13th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

NOVO-OGARYEVO, Russia, June 13 (AFP) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday he would be "diplomatic but firm" when he confronts French President Jacques Chirac in Paris on Britain's jealously-guarded EU budget rebate.

NOVO-OGARYEVO, Russia, June 13 (AFP) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday he would be "diplomatic but firm" when he confronts French President Jacques Chirac in Paris on Britain's jealously-guarded EU budget rebate.  

The future of the EUR 4.6 billion (USD 5.7 billion) annual rebate, in place since 1984, threatens to sour an EU summit in Brussels later this week that is supposed to focus on the moribund EU constitution.  

Speaking to reporters at a dacha outside Moscow where he met Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss next month's Group of Eight summit in Scotland, Blair stuck firmly to his position that the rebate cannot be discussed without considering the overall way the EU is financed.  

"I will be, as is my way, diplomatic but firm," he said, drawing a link between the way the EU spends its money - including billions of euros in subsidies to French and other farmers - and the defeat of the EU constitution in French and Dutch referendums.  

"The context for this discussion is one in which two countries have now voted against the EU constitution," said Blair, with Putin sympathetically listening at his side.  

"Why? Because people in Europe did not believe sufficient attention was being paid to their concerns about Europe and its future.  

"When we come to discuss the future financing of the European Union, let us bear that in mind and realise that you cannot discuss the existence of the British rebate unless we discuss the whole of the financing of the European Union," he said.  

He pointed out that, under the Common Agricultural Policy put in place in the 1950s, and of which French farmers are by far the largest beneficiaries, 40 percent of the EU budget is spent on a sector that employs just five percent of European workers.  

"We have to ask the question, in the early 21st century: 'Is a budget which is formulated this way the answer to the problems of Europe today?' I don't think that it is." 

Blair was to dine in Berlin later Monday with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who is calling for compromise on the vexed issue of EU finances, before going to Paris on Tuesday via Luxembourg which is preparing to pass the rotating EU presidency to Britain on July 1.  

In earlier statements, Blair has indicated that he might give some ground on the rebate, so long as other EU member states agree to reduce the level of EU farm subsidies.  

But officials in London have also warned that Britain will not hesitate to use its power of veto over EU finances to hang onto the rebate in the absence of a suitable agreement.  

The rebate was secured 21 years ago by then prime minister Margaret Thatcher to compensate for the fact that Britain, unlike other EU member states, drew little in the way of farm subsidies from Brussels.  

Other EU member states argue that, with the most robust economy of any major EU partner, Britain is in a position to make a bigger net contribution to EU coffers, especially after the bloc's big-bang enlargement into eastern Europe.  

Chirac, humiliated by the defeat of the EU constitution that he had so strongly championed, has ruled out substantial changes to the Common Agricultural Policy in the bloc's 2007-13 spending plans, to be decided at the EU summit Thursday and Friday.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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