Robin Hood Or The Sheriff of Nottingham?

José Barroso, European Commission president, yesterday advised Tony Blair not to act like the Sheriff of Nottingham, taking from the poor to give to the rich. I don’t know whether Tony’s been taking his advice, but this decision seems significant, and seems to reflect a willingness to try and get a deal. I don’t know what will eventually happen to the badly needed reform of the CAP though.

UK prime minister Tony Blair has signalled London will agree to cut its rebate from the EU budget, without a link to common agricultural policy (CAP) reform but through excluding new member states from contributions to the “British cheque.”…

London had, until now, insisted that a complex reform of EU spending, mainly on farm subsidies, is needed if the UK is to give up the rebate, which was negotiated in 1984 by Margaret Thatcher.

However, with France unlikely to agree on any farm cuts at the December summit, UK officials have revealed they will offer to freeze the UK’s €5.6 billion annual rebate at something close to the current level.

The solution is similar to one which London rejected in June, but the proposed British rebate cuts are less severe.

EU Budget: The Plot Thickens

Perhaps better said, the crisis deepens. Jaques Chirac started things off:

The time has come for our British friends to understand that they must now make a gesture of solidarity

and Tony Blair, of course, rose to the bait:

Britain has been making a gesture, because over the past 10 years, even with the British rebate, we have been making a contribution into Europe two and half times that of France.”

“Without the rebate, it would have been 15 times as much as France. That is our gesture,

It doesn’t look like there’s too much understanding going on here. Then there’s the nub of the matter.

According to Blair, the reason the rebate exists is because otherwise there would be a ‘quite unfair’ proportion of British contribution and:

The reason for the unfairness is because the spending of Europe is so geared to the Common Agricultural Policy. My view is that if we want a debate on future financing, one part of that has got to be what Europe needs to spend its money on to prepare Europe for the 21st Century, which is not the same as Europe 30 or 40 years ago.

I think at this stage it is really hard to say how this will work out at the summit. At this moment in time there seems to be little love lost between the French President and his ‘British friends’. Of course a lot of this could change when they get down to the negotiating table, but at this moment in time it isn’t easy to see how.

EU Budget Reform Having Problems

Despite all the hard work that is being put in by EU President Jean-Claude Junker, progress on the forthcoming EU budget seems like it might be agonizingly slow. In the first place Blair is in fighting mood:

“The UK rebate will remain. We will not negotiate it away. Period,”

In london the treasury seems equally determined:

“We would use the veto to preserve the rebate whenever necessary,” a Treasury spokesman told AFP. “Our rebate remains fully justified and it is not up for negotiation.”

Meanwhile, over at the European parliament:

MEPs have taken a stand on the future of EU spending as national capitals war over Brussels spending ahead of a June 16 summit of European leaders. The European Parliament has set out budget plans from 2007 to 2013 that are lower than original projections from the EU executive but higher than cost-cutting governments. The parliament backed a blueprint blueprint drawn up by German MEP Reimer B?ge by 426 votes to 140 against, with 122 abstentions. Brussels chief Jos? Manuel Barroso has welcomed the move which is ?150 billion more generous than maximum spends sought by some penny pinching national treasuries. ?The European Parliament has shown leadership and good sense by putting the policy needs of the EU first,? he said.