EU budget chief attacks multi-billion-euro British rebate

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The European Union's budgetary commissioner called into question on Monday billions of euros (dollars) which Britain gets back from the EU budget, in comments likely to infuriate London.

Speaking to German business daily Handelsblatt, Janusz Lewandowski said: "The rebate for Britain has lost its original justification."

Income per capita in Britain has risen substantially since the 1980s when the rebate was negotiated, the Brussels official added.

Then prime minister Margaret Thatcher secured a much criticised deal in 1984 whereby Britain gets back a portion of its contribution to EU funds.

The justification at the time was that a large slice of EU money was used for farm subsidies from which Britain, with its relatively small agriculture sector, did not benefit.

Bugetary negotiations in the EU inevitably prompt disagreements between member states and the British budget rebate, seen as unfair in many quarters, is a regular stumbling block.

Lewandowski told Handelsblatt: "Of course they are going to defend the budget there ... My role in this business is as an honest broker."

In August, the 27 European Union member states agreed a 2011 budget of 126.5 billion euros, more than 3.6 billion euros less than the amount sought by the European Commission, the EU's day-to-day executive.

The budget now goes to the European parliament as negotiations with the Commission, standing by its request, must be wrapped up by October.

The bloc's next major budget cycle runs from 2014-2020.

© 2010 AFP

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