European Union leaders have welcomed a hard-fought budget deal after two days of tough talks in Brussels. It came in the early hours of Saturday morning after Britain agreed to cut its rebate and thus raise the enlarged EU’s overall expenditure.
The relief was clearly evident on the faces of everyone involved. Under the accord, the EU’s budget will grow to nearly 900 billion euros, while the UK gives up some ten and a half billion euros from its rebate over the next seven years. The extra money in EU coffers will go towards helping the latest and poorestmembers of the bloc. In return, France has agreed to a “full and wide-ranging” budget review in 2008-2009 which could lead to cuts in farm subsidies. But President Jacques Chirac could afford to smile as France retains the option of vetoing any proposed changes. All governments acknowledged that the deal saved the union from paralysis after the debacle over the EU constitution. Back home however, Britain’s Prime Minister has been criticised by the opposition who say he has surrendered so much for so little. But Tony Blair has defended the deal as a great success: “This is an agreement that allows Europe to move forward and demonstrate the right solidarity with the new member states, and for those of us who championed the enlargement of the EU, this is an important point,” he said.