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Vested interest binds Blairs hands in spending arena

brussels bureau

Vested interest binds Blairs hands in spending arena


Chirac and Blair’s dispute over EU spending was not on the agenda at the Elysée Palace. Budget talks broke down in June. The French insist the British rebate won in 1984 should go.

Downing Street says it will only consider cutting the rebate if the 25-nation bloc agrees to a fundamental review of its expenditure leading to a reduction in farm spending, of which France is the biggest beneficiary. Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies analyst Daniel Gros says that London is in a difficult position for dealing with the standoff. Since its interests are directly involved, it is hardly free to mediate objectively. Gros says this was clear when Blair’s own minister told the European Parliament, “We haven’t any idea how one could change the Common Agricultural Policy”. In July Blair said he welcomed debate, he planned to launch fundamental economic reform of the bloc, and that wanting change did not make him a traitor to the European ideal. Yet French MEP Alain Lamassoure says action has fallen far short of the intentions advertised: “It is desirable that the UK exercise its presidency fully, and not consider that with the opening of negotiations with Turkey it has completed its mandate. It is in the chair until December 31st. It is because of the British prime minister that the budget talks failed last June and he should have the stomach to get them going again and at least bring them to term among the governments.” London plans to debate financing only at the end of the year; This month’s summit is informal. It has vowed to try for an agreement. The longer there is no deal, the longer the new EU members have to wait for badly-needed EU catch-up funds.
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