Thursday, May 05, 2005

Pain in the offing

Nicely suppressed by the MSM, yesterday ministers from 17 EU member states called for an end to Britain's rebate on its EU budget contributions. This was at a meeting in Lisbon to discuss the perennial issue of the budget settlement for 2007-2013.

The 17 nations were: Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain. All of them also opted for a budget for the period equal 1.14 percent of gross national income.

The group is calling itself the "friends of cohesion" and this is the sixth time they have met. This time though, they were joined by regional policy commissioner Danuta Hubner, the Polish commissioner who is said to be obsessed by the single issue of getting more money for her home country.

The commissioner's presence raises the temperature of the on-going negotiations and puts the EU's net contributor states - Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Sweden and The Netherlands – in direct conflict with the majority, which comprise recipient states.

Brussels is still expecting that the budget to be agreed by June, with the Luxembourg foreign minister warning that "there cannot be a larger Europe with less money".

The chances of quick agreement, however, continue to look remote. Increasingly, it looks like one of the first tasks of the British presidency will be to break the deadlock. Given the pain involved, one almost hopes for a Blair victory today.

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