Study on new sources of EU revenue in October: budget chief

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EU budget chief Janusz Lewandowski said Thursday he plans to unveil a study on new sources of revenue for the 27 member bloc, likely to include public-private partnerships, in early October.

"I'm in favour of looking for new resources to somehow make the life of finance ministers easier" as EU states struggle with austerity measures, Lewandowski told AFP in Krynica, southern Poland, on the sidelines of a regional economic forum.

"They want to reduce their direct contribution in order to improve their budgetary statistics. My obligation is to present a neutral study, what is feasible as new innovative sources of revenue," he said.

Lewandowski, however, refused to elaborate whether he was considering a controversial Europe-wide tax that could directly target citizens, vehemently opposed Britain, France and Germany but hailed by Belgium, a tax on the financial sector championed by Paris and Berlin or a bank tax.

"I'm not going to mention this now as it is provoking so much controversy, its better to wait until the beginning of October for the budget review -- part of it will be a neutral feasibility study about eventual new resources to partly relieve the austerity budgets of Europe from national contributions," he said.

"I'm an anti-taxation personality as such, rather I favour the market and entrepreneurship," Lewandowski said, pointing to what he called the development of "new financial instruments" in the form of public-private partnerships.

"In times of austerity you have to be creative, as necessity is the mother of invention," Lewandowski said, indicating that public-private partnerships financed in part by the European Investment Bank could prove a feasible source of investment finance.

Last month, the 27 EU member states recommended a 2011 budget of 126.5 billion euros, more than 3.6 billion euros less than the amount sought by the commission and an almost identical figure to the London rebate.

The EU budget now goes to the European parliament, with a conciliation process expected to be invoked if the final figures are to be produced in time for an October deadline.

Lewandowski also explained his controversial recent comment saying "the rebate for Britain has lost its original justification."

"This is very much my personal opinion and we should remember that in 1984 (then British prime minister) Margaret Thatcher successfully won the English privilege on the premises that this is mainly to compensate the lack of British participation in agricultural spending, that was the year when agricultural spending was 70 percent of the European budget," Lewandowski told AFP.

"England was not an affluent country in the early 1980s in comparison with the others, but now this is a rich country and agriculture should be one-third of the European budget, so the original justification is gone," the commissioner said.

"But of course we must take into consideration the British position. They will defend and we need agreement of 27 countries, so this is the opening of discussion," he said, adding the matter was "extremely politically difficult".

"The UK abatement remains fully justified. It's a matter of fairness," a British government spokesman said recently insisting that without the rebate, Britain's net contribution to EU coffers as a percentage of national income would be twice as big as France's, and one-and-a-half times bigger than Germany's.

© 2010 AFP

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