Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A non-runner

Tucked away in the Telegraph piece we referred to in our previous posting is the following paragraph:

Mr Blair wants to strike a discreet deal on the rebate after the expected May 5 general election. He fears that a long-running row could spill over into the referendum campaign and overshadow efforts to sell the case for the constitution.
Any settlement, of course, will be while the UK holds the EU presidency – right at the time when Blair will be wanting to extol the virtues of the EU constitution.

That much is evident from the piece in the business section which reports that the Treasury is transferring as much as £138m every fortnight to the accounts of the EU.

This is according to Chris Austin, the Treasury official who oversees the EU's finances, who let this slip at a private meeting hosted by the Federal Trust at the offices of the European Parliament in London.

He also believes reform of the Common Agricultural Policy in the near future is a "non runner", a crucial issue as any deal on the British budget would require a more comprehensive reform of the CAP.

The Telegraph has it that Austin's comments are the latest sign of growing Treasury anger at Brussels, especially as Britain is close to overtaking Germany as the biggest net contributor.

Austin said that since 1984 Britain has contributed £58 billion - more than France (£29 billion) and Italy (£17 billion).

He added: "Reform of the CAP is taking place at a pace not visible to the naked eye. The prospects for reform by 2013 are about the same as Best Mate winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup. For those who don't know, it is a non-runner."

Blair has about the same chance of striking a "discreet deal" on the rebate.

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