Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and President Jacques Chirac have been coordinating strategy over how they think the controversial long-term EU budget should be worked out at next week’s Brussels summit. After the French and Dutch referenda rejections of the EU constitution, analysts say failure with the budget would further handicap the EU. In Paris, Schroeder said France and Germany were ready to close on a constructive compromise, but that all the member states had to help, in the interest of Europe.
The 25 European Union leaders are all looking to defend national interests. Paris is the leading voice calling for an end to the British rebate. “We cannot have an excessive rise in European spending,” Chirac said. “Solidarity is the very spirit of the EU. “And yet: “Past commitments must be respected, especially the 2002 agreement on the Common Agricultural Policy.” (That deal froze farm spending in place until 2013.)
Prime Minister Blair wants farm subsidies scaled back. He continues to defend the UK rebate. Some items of EU business need all the members’ approval to change; The farm funds and rebate are two of them. From Downing Street, Blair said: “If the rebate did not exist, it would mean that for the past 10 years we would literally have been contributing 15 times — 15 times — the net contribution that France makes. That’s why the rebate is there. If people want to look again fundamentally at the common agricultural policy, of course everything then can be looked at properly. What you can’t have though is: take one part of this debate and say it’s all about the British rebate and not have the other parts of the debate.” In the argument about the Common Agricultural Policy, Blair said it takes up 40 percent of the EU’s finances and caters to five percent of its population.