Thursday

23rd May 2019

Tension mounts as EU waits for UK's latest budget offer

  • "Bollocky EU bureaucracy" wastes money, the British ambassador said. (Photo: EUobserver)

EU foreign ministers' talks on the 2007-2013 budget ended after less than a minute on Monday (12 December), with the UK set to issue new proposals on Wednesday ahead of Thursday's summit.

Dutch diplomats said the spending debate lasted 58 seconds before switching to enlargement, while a French official explained "the talks ended because the presidency said we have no new proposals for the time being."

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Almost all member states rejected the UK's initial budget offer last week, which included reducing the UK rebate by €8 billion, a common agricultural policy (CAP) review in 2008 and €14 billion less for new member states.

Remarking on the Wednesday schedule, the French diplomat added "It's late, but it's never too late."

Polish and Dutch ministers also gave vent to bitter-sweet feelings about the UK's budget tactics, Reuters reports.

Poland's European affairs minister Jaroslaw Pietras said "An agreement is possible, but indeed not at any price", while Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot indicated "I am very optimistic, but we have to wait for the proposals."

Barroso makes appeal

Meanwhile, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso turned the screw on London with a new letter addressed to UK leader Tony Blair and copied to all the EU heads of state.

The letter calls for higher overall spending, more money for new member states, a permanent legal reform of the UK rebate mechanism and the same EU spending rules for all.

The latter is a reference to UK proposals to soften spending rules for new member states only.

Mr Barroso indicated that under proposed EU administration budget cuts, Brussels would not be able to handle Romanian and Bulgarian enlargement in 2007.

He echoed French comments that "we cannot have an agreement" without a permanent overhaul of the UK rebate, and alluded to Irish satirist Oscar Wilde while warning London to avoid repeating June summit mistakes.

"Failure is not an option", Mr Barroso said. "To fail once is unfortunate. To fail twice would be careless."

UK ambassador in email gaffe

Mr Barroso's letter was rather different to an email sent by British ambassador to Poland Charles Crawford last week and published in the Times on Saturday.

The email suggested Mr Blair should start Thursday's summit by putting a Chinese-made alarm clock on the table and giving EU leaders one hour to make up their minds.

"If anyone says no, we end the meeting. The EU will move on to a complete mess of annual budgets. Basically suits us - we'll pay less and the rebate stays 100 percent intact", Mr Crawford's letter said.

It ridiculed French leader Jacques Chirac for "nagging" the British taxpayer to "bloat rich French landowners and so pump up food prices in Europe, thereby creating poverty in Africa" under the CAP.

The letter blasted new member states for "ingratitude" and said EU development spending should cut out "the blathering European Parliament" and "all the bollocky EU bureaucracy" that sees European Commission "corruption" gobbling up cash.

Mr Crawford says the email was intended as a joke, with Polish diplomats refusing to comment.

Happy to fail?

But other news coming out of London in the past few days has reignited fears that the UK might be happy to see the budget talks fail.

UK prime minister Tony Blair said on Saturday that any deal must include potential common agricultural policy (CAP) reforms before 2013.

"My insistence is that we must at least have the prospect of being able to make a change [on CAP] if we wish to do so", he said, according to the BBC.

French negotiators have repeatedly stated that any plans to reform CAP before 2013 will derail the budget deal.

The Telegraph added fuel to the fire by revealing that the UK treasury's latest report on internal British financing assumes that the British rebate will remain unchanged, in line with UK finance chief Gordon Brown's ideas and a "no deal" scenario.

Treasury spokesmen dismissed the rebate assumption as a routine accountancy procedure, the paper adds.

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