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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 December 2005, 11:34 GMT
No deal?
On Sunday 04 December 2005 Andrew Marr interviewed Douglas Alexander MP, Minister of State for Europe

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Douglas Alexander MP
Douglas Alexander MP, Minister of State for Europe

ANDREW MARR: As we've just heard when it comes to brokering a deal on the European Union budget the government appears to be heading for a fall.

The 1 billion a year concession offered so far to the new European Member State, East Europeans, hasn't been entirely warmly received, not enough.

And the concessions that have been offered have been roundly slated in today's papers as far too much.

Does it matter if we don't get a deal at all?

Joining me is the Europe Minister Douglas Alexander. Douglas Alexander, does it matter if we don't get a deal?

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: Good morning Andrew. I think it would be better if we were able to get a deal, but it needs to be the right deal. It needs to be the right deal for Britain and the right deal for Europe.

And there can't be any guarantees when you're dealing with 25 Member States all very keen to protect their national interests, it's a tough and challenging business.

ANDREW MARR: It doesn't look like it's going to be a deal. I mean it looks pretty grim at the moment.

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: Well let me just tell you where we are in the process. We would expect to be tabling proposals at the beginning of the week. There'll then be a meeting of European Foreign Ministers on Wednesday and I think once those formal proposals are on the table, by the end of the week we'll have a clearer idea as to whether a deal seems to be possible.

ANDREW MARR: Can I be clear about this - we've put, as it were, 1 billion a year on the table. If that isn't accepted as part of the deal by the Eastern European countries and in the other. Do we take it back off the table again? That's not money that we're handing over come what may?

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: Well, let's be clear as to exactly where we are. We inherited a situation after the Luxembourg presidency when we took over the presidency of the European Union, where there was no budget agreed by the 25 Member States.

Ourselves and four other countries were unable to accept those proposals. Since then we've consistently argued that we wanted to see a very fundamental change to Europe's budget. Now frankly that's a very tough undertaking, but we think it's right to re-prioritise Europe's budgets to face the challenges of the future.

ANDREW MARR: But we're not going to give that money away if there isn't a deal?

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: What we've said under any circumstances that I can envisage, the rebate, the British rebate will actually grow rather than diminish over the years to come because the British rebate grows as the budget of the European Union grows.

But frankly there will be important and difficult discussions with other Member States in the days ahead. You will appreciate at this stage it wouldn't really be right for me to talk 'figures' ahead of the proposals being tabled.

ANDREW MARR: I'm just trying to be clear - it seems to some people as if we're giving everything and getting absolutely nothing back at all. And if there isn't a deal, do we still hand over a chunk of our rebate come what may?

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: That's understandable. Let's be clear as to what the principles are that will inform the proposals we'll take tomorrow. First of all we've always made clear that we do regard the British rebate as being very closely linked to the Common Agricultural Policy of which we want to see very fundamental reform

ANDREW MARR: But the French are moving, not at all on that

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: But I was just about to say, if you look back at the rebate it was established in 1984 in Fontainebleau by Margaret Thatcher. In every one of those 21 years since 1984 we've still been in a position where Britain has contributed significantly more to the European Union than France, under proposals that we will put forward actually there would be rough parity between countries of equivalent size.

So we're in a position where the rebate will actually grow rather than diminish we would for the first time in history since 1984 with the abatement, actually see Britain paying about the same amount as France.

But at the same time we do recognise and this is something which we've been criticised for in the newspapers - we do recognise we've got a responsibility to make a contribution to what's called the cost of enlargement, that's bringing in these ten new Members to the European Union.

ANDREW MARR: They use words this morning like "spineless" about the government on this. Perhaps people could understand handing over some of the rebate if there was then a really good deal, but to offer it up and get nothing back in return would be a catastrophe.

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: Well we've made clear that the rebate will actually grow rather than diminish in the years ahead. But this is also an important point, and frankly newspaper headlines come and go.

Our responsibility is to advance Britain's national interest and we do believe that Britain's national interest is served by the fact that these new Member States who are coming into the European Union can prosper.

Let me give you the practical reason why in the past ten years our trade with these new countries coming into the European Union has increased 400%. That means extra jobs, extra prosperity and extra exports for British companies and for viewers of this programme.

ANDREW MARR: One very quick personal response - 22% increase for MPs' pay, how would you vote?

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: I would vote against it. It's the first time I've heard about it this morning. But frankly we need responsibility as MPs if we're asking for responsibility from other people.

ANDREW MARR: Douglas Alexander thank you very much.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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