French leaders insist:'Britain must pay more'

15th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 15 (AFP) - France dug its heels in Wednesday to insist Britain must contribute more to the European Union's financial pot, setting the scene for a major clash over the bloc's budget at the upcoming EU summit.

PARIS, June 15 (AFP) - France dug its heels in Wednesday to insist Britain must contribute more to the European Union's financial pot, setting the scene for a major clash over the bloc's budget at the upcoming EU summit.  

A day after talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Jacques Chirac urged London to "play its full part" in financing the EU budget.  

"Each (nation) must contribute to the European effort in proportion to its means, and the United Kingdom must play its full part in the financing of an enlarged Europe," Chirac told his cabinet, government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope said.  

At the same time, he ruled out renegotiating the bloc's Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), a costly and complex system of subsidies which benefits farmers in France in particular.  

He said an agreement on the CAP decided in 2002 after a deal between France and Germany "applies to all and must be fully respected."  

Beyond the budget wrangle is a struggle between the two leaders over which direction the European Union should take, either towards the centralised bloc wanted by France or a looser confederation envisaged by Britain.  

The scale of their disagreement was on show Tuesday after Chirac and Blair met for talks in Paris.  

The British prime minister acknowledged "a sharp disagreement" and said he saw little chance of overcoming the problem at the EU summit starting Thursday in Brussels.   Each has demanded that the other give way on a jealously guarded financial benefit worth billions of euros to their country.  

Chirac wants Britain to give up the annual rebate it gets from the European Union to offset its contributions, and which has reached EUR 5.3 billion.  

Even with the rebate, Britain is the second-biggest contributor to the EU's operating budget after Germany, but France - backed by other EU countries - says the rebate, agreed in 1984, is now outdated.  

Blair however counters that if the rebate is to be frozen or axed, it must be as part of a broader shake-up of EU finances that includes the agriculture subsidies, which account for some 40 percent of the bloc's budget.  

Chirac reiterated at Wednesday's cabinet meeting that the rebate must go.  

He outlined his main points: "budgetary discipline"; European "solidarity" to help new EU members to modernise; the "respect" of past agreements, namely CAP; and "fairness" in each state shouldering its share.  

Primer Minister Dominique de Villepin, too, insisted that France would not countenance changes to the CAP.  

"In October 2002 we adopted a decision which guaranteed the financing of the CAP up to 2013. It is an important step forward for our farmers and no-one can go back on it," he said.  

Britain and France also disagree on the future of the European constitution whose rejection by French voters plunged the bloc into one of the worst crises in its half-century history.  

Villepin insisted the country-by-country process of ratifying the treaty, designed to streamline and harmonise how the expanding bloc is run, should go on.  

"It is for each member state to express its view according to the mechanism it has chosen. That is respect for democracy. It is also the clearest sign of our desire to preserve European unity," he said.  

Britain, however, has suspended plans to hold its own referendum, and said there should be a "pause for reflection" to ponder the way ahead.  

Chirac told his cabinet he wanted "a collective decision on the future of the ratification process" and called on the summit to ponder the direction of European unification and its perception by EU citizens.  

Villepin said the "no" vote in France's May 29 referendum raised questions over future EU enlargement.  

"The French want to know what kind of Europe they will build their futures in, and what shall be its borders," he said.


Subject: French News

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