UK seeks to break EU budget deadlock

17th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

STRASBOURG, Nov 16 (AFP) - Britain vowed Wednesday to make a fresh bid early next month to break a deadlock in crunch EU budget talks, but again defended its long-cherished rebate -- and launched a stinging attack on France for clutching to out-of-date policies.

STRASBOURG, Nov 16 (AFP) - Britain vowed Wednesday to make a fresh bid early next month to break a deadlock in crunch EU budget talks, but again defended its long-cherished rebate -- and launched a stinging attack on France for clutching to out-of-date policies.

Pressure is growing on Britain, which currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency, to broker a deal on the bloc's 2007-2013 budget by the end of the year after member states failed to strike a bargain at an acrimonius summit in June.

"In June five member states rejected the proposed budget, next month we'll need all 25 to agree," UK foreign secretary Jack Straw told the European Parliament.

"So we have some hard negotiating ahead of us and with that in mind we aim to table comprehensive proposals in early December for a discussion at a conclave of foreign ministers," he added.

London is widely seen as holding the key to a deal firstly because it holds the EU's rotating presidency and secondly its multi-billion-euro budget rebate has been a major sticking point blocking an agreement so far.

Raising the pressure on London, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso told journalists: "I believe a large key factor is the British position.

"Why would our British friends find a key in March or June if they can't find a key under under their own presidency," he added. "Everybody has to move but I believe a special responsability lies with the British presidency."

The failure of the June summit was widely put down to a refusal by Britain to see its rebate reduced without cuts in the EU's lavish farm subsidies, which France -- the main beneficiary of such spending -- flatly rejected.

Sounding a note of caution, Straw insisted that a deal in December depended on "significant changes" on what had been on offer in June.

"The amount that is paid into the EU's budget must be seen as fair and balanced in all member states and for that to happen significant changes will be needed to the arrangements, which affect among other member states the United Kingdom, from those which were proposed in June," he said.

"Without significant changes I see little prospects of a deal but with them I believe we can take negotiations forward and we are committed as presidency to trying to do a deal," he added.

Amid calls to surrender its rebate, Britain argues that whole budget structure is outdated, too focused on farm subsidies -- which swallow up about 40 percent of the budget -- and is not orientated adequately towards such areas as education and research that will reap future dividends.

But that argument invariably stokes tensions with France, which is currently fighting to keep the European Union from offering deep cuts in farm subsidies as part of European concessions in crunch trade liberalisation talks.

Britain's top diplomat added fuel to the flames by attacking French protectionism.

"All I say to colleagues here is that globalisation is a fact of life. The French may not like it but we either have to deal with it or it will engulf all of us," he said.

"I didn't invent it, President Barroso did not invent it and neither did (French) president (Jacques) Chirac."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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