Blair defends UK stance on £3bn rebate

TONY BLAIR has defended his actions at the European Council meeting (June 16&17) in which he refused to give up the UK’s rebate unless there was unanimous support for further reform of the CAP.

The current CAP arrangements, agreed in October 2002, are due to run until 2013 when the current EU budget concludes.

However, the EU is facing a shortfall in its projected revenue levels as member states fail to agree on future spending and funding levels for the EU after 2013.

The current proposals would see funding rise to an average of 1.12% of GDP for each member state, but the UK and a number of other member states are keen to maintain funding at 1% where as France amongst others was keen for it to rise to 1.27% of GDP.

The Prime Minister has argued that as the economies of the member states grow so will the level of contribution in money terms, furthermore, he is unwilling to increase contributions while the CAP consumes 40% of the budget.

During a Parliamentary debate in the House of Commons on Monday (June 20) the Prime Minister explained the UK position and the need for the EU to redirect resources away from agriculture and in to research and development to counter the growing threat of emerging economies such as China and India and the other asian nations.

“It simply does not make sense, in this new world, for Europe to spend over 40% of its budget on the common agricultural policy, representing 5% of the EU population producing less than 2% of Europe’s output,” said the Prime Minister.

“Indeed, we are spending seven times as much on agriculture as on research and development, science, technology, education and support for innovation combined.

“This is not a budget fit for purpose in the 21st century. Even at the end of the next financial period—by the beginning of 2014—we would be spending 40% of the budget on the CAP. Europe just cannot wait 10 years or more for the change that is necessary,” he added.

Mr Blair also rebuffed criticisms made by French President Jacques Chirac who said Mr Blair’s actions had worsened the crisis in Europe.

“It is said that the failure to reach a deal has deepened Europe’s crisis; that Europe’s credibility demanded a deal. No.

“Europe’s credibility demands the right deal—not the usual cobbled-together compromise in the early hours of the morning, but a deal that recognises the nature of the crisis,” said the Prime Minister.

In a remarkable intervention, Gerard Errera, the French ambassador to Britain, spoke out against the British proposals during an interview on ITN on Monday evening to argue that Mr Blair should use the presidency to unite Europe, not divide it.

“The job of the president is to bring people together, especially in times of crisis, not to impose views, especially when those views are not shared by the majority,” said M Errera.

The Prime Minister’s statement was welcomed by the Conservative leader, Michael Howard, who said: “on this occasion, I am delighted to say there are more aspects than usual with which we can agree.”

However, the Tory leader questioned the Prime Minister’s motives in agreeing to the reformed CAP proposals in 2002.

“With the benefit of hindsight, does the Prime Minister now accept that he was wrong in October 2002 to sign up to the existing CAP arrangements, under which 40% of the EU budget still goes to an activity that employs just 5% of the people, as he said?”.