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Last Updated: Monday, 21 November 2005, 17:36 GMT
UK under fire on future EU budget
Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds, left, shares a word with Austrian counterpart Ursula Plassnik
Most ministers saw Luxembourg's proposal as the basis for a deal
EU foreign ministers have criticised the UK for failing to put forward firm proposals to resolve disagreements over the 2007-13 budget.

A number of ministers at a meeting in Brussels said there was no point discussing the issue until the UK came up with a blueprint with hard figures.

The UK, the current EU president, says it is doing all it can to get the row resolved at a summit in mid-December.

It is so far resisting calls for it to give up its 5.7bn euro (3.9bn) rebate.

As there is nothing new to discuss, I have got nothing new to say
Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said the foreign ministers had voiced "a general feeling of concern," pleading with the British presidency to compromise in order to prevent a crisis.

"Either [the UK] proposes a package over the next few days, to include a fair distribution of the costs of enlargement, as we proposed in June, or it condemns us all to failure, which would be a heavy responsibility," Mr Douste-Blazy said.

Correspondents say the UK will present a "take-it-or-leave-it" budget proposal to a special meeting of foreign ministers at the start of next month.

Protests

Reports from Brussels say the Finnish Foreign Minister, Erkki Tuomioja, refused to contribute to the meeting, saying: "As there is nothing new to discuss, I have got nothing new to say."

We are sitting here wasting our time
Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who was chairing the meeting, said his Finnish colleague deserved an award for making the shortest speech at an EU meeting.

The Reuters news agency quoted diplomats, who reported the Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht as having said: "We are sitting here wasting our time".

Mr Douste-Blazy said most member states were alarmed by indications that the UK intended to depart substantially from a compromise proposed by the Luxembourg presidency of the EU in June.

Correspondents say UK Prime Minister Tony Blair will discuss the European Union with the new German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who will visit London on Thursday, two days after her inauguration.

'Urgency'

Germany agrees with the UK that the EU budget should be capped at 1% of EU gross national income, and Ms Merkel once sympathised with the British desire for cuts in EU farm subsidies.

This is a very serious matter, we are running out of time
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso
The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, attended the foreign ministers' meeting to urge the member states to work hard to resolve the budget row.

"This is a very serious matter, we are running out of time," he said.

The UK rejected the Luxembourg compromise in June because it said it could not agree to a reduction in its rebate without guarantees of structural reform of the entire budget - principally, a reduction in farm subsidies.

The Luxembourg deal would have frozen the rebate at its current level, causing an increase over time in the UK's net contribution to the EU.

UK assurances

The rebate dates from 1984, when the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher insisted it was not fair how little the UK received in European farm subsidies.

Countries with powerful farming constituencies, such as France and Ireland, oppose further changes to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), while other net contributors also want a mechanism to reduce their contribution.

Going into the meeting, Mr Straw said the UK was committed to doing everything it could to get a deal.

"But a negotiation is a negotiation which requires movement by all sides," he said, "not just by one party, which in this case happens to be the UK presidency".


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