Waiting With Baited Breath?

Will there or won’t there be an eleventh hour agreement on the new EU budget. Tony Blair is clearly burning the midnight oil, but the foreign ministers did not seem to be unduly impressed:

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.

Britain is set today to publish revised proposals designed to broker a deal on a seven-year EU budget, with the new offer still expected to include heavy cuts to funding for eastern Europe. According to the FT:

Tony Blair, British prime minister, is expected to soften his proposals at the EU summit starting in Brussels on Thursday, including giving up more of the UK budget rebate and restoring some of the planned cuts in the new member states.

In pushing for a tighter EU budget for 2007-2013, the UK’s inital offer proposed cuts of almost 10 per cent in funding for eastern Europe in a total budget of €847bn ($1,000bn, £571bn).

Tony has also found a new argument, the cuts in Eastern Europe aren’t as bad as they seem, since these countries don’t know how to spend the money even when they get it (hmmmmm).

Britain claims there is little harm in reducing payments to poorer new members because they are already finding it difficult to spend the much smaller amounts they are being allocated in 2004-2006. But central Europeans say the British analysis is flawed because it looks at figures for this year, which give no indication of how well the billions of euros in structural funds will be spent.

Meantime, in a decision which is getting decidedly less coverage, French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy may have pulled the plug on the enlargement process itself by refusing to approve official EU candidate member status for Macedonia. I’m not sure what this implies. Any comments from our experts out there?

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

7 thoughts on “Waiting With Baited Breath?

  1. “French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy may have pulled the plug on the enlargement process itself”

    This could get interesting. In order to ‘appease’ the NON-crowd, and notably those who do not like to see Turkey in the EU, the French have adopted a new law on referendums. After Croatia becomes part of the EU all new accessions will be put to the popular vote.

    Apparently, Douste-Blazy is trying to blackmail the UK into accepting a bigger cut in its rebate:En adoptant cette posture défensive, la France accentue sa pression sur la Grande-Bretagne, appelée à faire un effort supplémentaire sur son rabais, afin d’obtenir l’aval de ses partenaires sur le budget. Mais l’intervention du ministre français des Affaires étrangères, hier, à Bruxelles, a été très mal accueillie par les Britanniques, qui parlent d’un «chantage déplacé et malheureux pour les Balkans».While there might be some merit in Douste-Blazy’s argument that we cannot even pay for the enlargement by ten, this latest move, if it is indeed blackmail, is entirely misplaced IMHO. It is not right to put a third country in the crosshairs of a budgetary tiff between two member states. I hope the Macedonian delegation has been informed of the strategy and reassured that Chirac, to whom the final decision on its candidacy has been relegated, will give them the green light after all.

  2. “Baited Breath”

    Eeewww.

    You meant ‘bated breath’ (it’s from abate, as in the winds abated not fish bait)

  3. “You meant ‘bated breath'”

    Whoops, thanks for that DHM, yet another clanger. OTOH, under the circumstances I’ll leave it, since that is just what is being dangled beneath our noses: bait.

  4. This sucks.

    Macedonia is in no way ready to join the EU, or even to begin accession talks.

    But — they have come a long way. They the only ethnically mixed piece of the former YU to have avoided a bloody civil war. They’ve got their ethnic groups living together in grudging peace and tolerance. They’ve had several years of good economic growth. And you can see (some of) the institutions of law and good government gradually taking hold there.

    I visited Skopje recently after several years away. /Huge/ difference. Streets had been paved, sidewalks cleaned, shop windows washed and filled with new goods. And the Holiday Inn is no longer an obvious hangout for creepy gangster bosses and their hulking thugs.

    The Macedonians have done everything Europe has asked — more so, perhaps, than any other country in the region. They may not be ready for accession talks, but they deserve a shot at starting the process. They’ve earned that much.

    And now they’re going to be screwed over because the current French government wants a piece to play against Britain, and/or a quick shot in the arm for its poll ratings?

    That’s just… wrong.

    Doug M.

  5. I don’t want to sound melodramatic here, but if the French really are going to turn into serious and consistent blockers of expansion — whether through veto, or simply by voting “no” in referenda — it’s hard to overstate the bad consequences for the Balkans.

    EU accession is the major driver for reform and stability in this region. In some places, it’s the *only* driver.

    Doug M.

  6. “I don’t want to sound melodramatic here”

    I don’t think you’re being melodramatic, this is my impression too, but since you know more about this than I do I just wanted to hear you say it.

    I think it goes further than the British Cheque and agricultural reform, I think this goes back to the June referendum. Some – like Henry Farrel of Crooked Timber – thought it might be good news. I have always felt it could become a watershed, both for the euro, and for enlargement. I still hope I am proved wrong.

  7. Some googling turns up this: “Mr Douste-Blazy added, however, that France was committed to giving the entire Western Balkans a long-term EU membership perspective.”

    Hmm.

    — It’s a tightrope walk. Slowing the process might be OK. But slow it too much, and people in the region lose hope. A longer wait now, plus a referendum with an unknowable outcome: at some point, people make a rational calculation and say, well, this game’s just not worth the candle.

    To be clear: I got NO problem with holding candidates’ feet to the fire on compliance issues. Double especially on things like war crimes and human rights.

    But this is screwed.

    — Complete agreement that it’s about the NON vote. The Dutch are in on it too, to some extent:

    “Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot said he was ‘not sure at all’ that EU leaders could this week find agreement on the Macedonia status.

    “But he added that a compromise text could entail a firm decoupling of the candidate status from any commitment to open negotiations with Skopje, through the introduction of additional tough conditions for the actual accession talks to kick off.

    “The Netherlands itself, backed by Denmark, is pushing for the inclusion of extra safeguards that the candidate status will not automatically lead to the start of accession talks.

    “‘It should be clear that the next step could be very far away’, Mr Bot said.”

    (BTW, where is Henry Farrell talking about this? I didn’t see it over at CT.)

    Doug M.

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