EU partners get set for a knock-about summit over shared spending

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EU partners get set for a knock-about summit over shared spending

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An underwhelming new European Union budget proposal by the bloc’s current British Council Presidency looks set to guarantee bare-knuckle bargaining for the 25 leaders at this Thursday and Friday’s summit. Foreign Minister Jack Straw unveiled the revised plan in the British parliament:

“Budget negotiations have never been easy. The equivalent European Council seven years ago failed to reach agreement. We in the United Kingdom are working very hard for a deal this time, but it is clear that no deal is preferable to a bad one.”

The UK raised its proposal to 849.3 billion euros or 1.03 percent of EU output (GNI). This added 2.5 billion euros to last week’s package.

The first of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s budget proposals was rejected by most member states, so it seems unlikely the latest will curry favour. On reducing its annual refund from the Brussels treasury, London went no further.

It is willing to forego eight billion euros of the rebate, over seven years, to share in the costs of enlargement. The current mechanism will cause the rebate to increase from some five billion euros per year to seven.

The largest of the new member states, Poland, said Britain’s attitude was minimalist and not at all satisfactory. Warsaw made clear it would veto the proposal if it were not modified.

Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said it really was “a pity” not to see more solidarity with the bloc’s poorer partners.

The British tried putting the partners at ease at an informal gathering at Hampton Court in October, where the budget was not even talked about. Yet it failed to dispel the acrid air of the Luxembourg summit in June, when the talks over spending collapsed.