Can members reach a deal on the European Union's next spending budget?
Budget reform is set to be high on the agenda as Britain takes over the presidency of the EU.
Recent talks on setting the Union's budget collapsed with the UK refusing to give up its £3bn a year refund without reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
However, France has insisted the deal which fixes farm payments until 2013 should not be changed.
What impact will Britain's presidency have on the EU? Can a deal be reached over the budget? Has the UK prime minister set himself the right goals?
Are you concerned about European politics and the future of the European Union? Would you like to participate in a panel of readers, giving your thoughts on European issues?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
Budget arrangements will be agreed because they must, nothing more obvious. It is the optimum time to realign our Union to diversified internal co-operation while treating the developing world equitably. The only argument will be over how much and how soon progress can be negotiated through. Nothing new in that either, but let's keep up the pressure for as long as it takes; our future, let alone the future of the world, hinges upon success.
Andrew W. Heatlie, Glasgow, Scotland, EU
If the EU were a plc and failed to produce fully audited and signed off accounts for a decade the directors would end up in jail and the company would go bankrupt. Yet when it's the EU that somehow "loses" a few billion here and a few billion there and can't quite get the books to tally to within a few hundred million or so it's just accepted as "one of those things". Why are we still pouring money into this organisation?
John B, UK
I am sick and tired of all the talk about the EU being a Franco-German project. Germany shoulders nearly 50% of the budget while having a say of 10%. One probably has to be British to understand what Britain is complaining about.
Laura Weston, Berlin, Germany
The two sticking points are the rebate and the CAP. If the UK renegotiates its contribution to an acceptable level to all, with NO rebate, the French must accept changes in agricultural policies. All member states must agree a level of contribution that is sustainable and appropriate if the EU is to survive. But then again, perhaps this will be the beginning of the end of the monster that the EU has become.
Dave Jowett, Yate, UK
Tony should be applauded for his tough stance and refusal to be bullied by France, Spain and Germany. I work a 45 hour week for a modest income and I certainly don't want to see more of my tax going to Europe.
James Dennison, Sheffield, England
If Europe is to succeed then it must adopt the free market rules, not the French Market Rules.
Aleksander Kurylcio, Bytom, Poland
I have yet to see a believable explanation as to why we remain in this fiasco called the "European Union". All we get is meaningless platitudes such as "we must be at the heart of Europe". I see no merit in remaining politically connected to a group of countries who each have their own agendas and consequently cannot agree on anything - least of all the budget!
Charles Mouncey, Bury St Edmunds, England
I doubt very much that we will see a budget agreement during the Blair term. I think the people of Europe should ask themselves; "Do we need EU, and do we need the Euro"? If not, I think it's time to break up the ties with EU and remove the colossal burden of administrative cost caused by the parliaments in Strasbourg and Brussels.
H Andersen, Gothenburg, Sweden
It's interesting to see comments from French posters like Dominique and Pascal. I think they miss the point of what most Brits think. No-one is arguing that Europe shouldn't produce its own food. Instead, we just wonder why everyone else should have to pay for France getting 40% of the CAP expenditure, when France is at least as well off as the UK. Wouldn't it just make sense to have each member state making net contributions to the EU proportional to their GDPs?
Gerard, Derby, UK
It seems crystal clear that EU needs to stop protecting its farmers at the expense of the rest of the world's developing countries. We have a free market economy - let's diversify, let's grow produce that's based on a level playing field for the sugar and pineapple farmers from Third World countries. It seems clear that poverty and rising terrorism can be reduced with a fair approach.
Antony, York, England
Thousands of miners, car workers etc are thrown out of work and nobody blinks. One farmer about to lose his job and it's a national crisis. Scrap the CAP and wake Europe up to what it really is, an urban society.
Dale Muir, Ioannina, Greece
The problem is that British citizens and European citizens generally have a ghetto mentality (France is only 21 miles from the UK for goodness sake!). There's an entire continent of opportunity and if you don't take the chance then someone else will!
Jonathan Kingsbury, Salisbury, UK
There seems to be at least a significant proportion of the people of Britain who want nothing more to do with the corrupt Franco-German club known as the EU. And yet we are denied a vote on anything related to the EU. What bit of the word "democracy" does Tony Blair not understand? Of course the EU will never agree on a budget. They never agree on anything of significance, so why change now?
Steve Butler, Basingstoke, England
Mr Blair is entirely correct to demand reform of the Common Agricultural Policy in return for conceding the rebate. However, this is doomed to fail because of Chirac's typically French attitude of "What's mine is mine, and what's yours is negotiable". Stand Firm Mr Blair!
Jim Kaufman, Houston, Texas, USA
No I don't believe a deal can be done. It sickens me that even though most member states doggedly pursue their own interests, it's always the UK that gets jumped on as the bad guy for doing so. The French government has a history of unpunished selective adherence to EU rules and its hypocrisy over the CAP reform/rebate argument frankly stinks. This, combined with the overwhelming rejection of the constitution by the good people of France and Holland, and the 10 year audit-free state of the existing accounts makes a pretty strong argument for ditching this well intentioned but wayward "project" in favour of simple trading facilities.
Dan, Yateley, UK
Of course the EU will agree on a budget, but as usual it will bring nothing good for European citizens. The whole system will never work properly without one currency, one tax system and one type of social insurance. Everything else is just a patchwork carpet which will tear at the seams whenever it is strained.
Kenneth Ingle, Bielefeld, Germany
What is the point in throwing more money into the budget when its accounts have not been signed for 10 years?
The next six months will be the defining of the European Union. I feel that the UK has been right to put the emphasis back on the reform of the CAP as it is astounding that a modern developed nation such as France gains the most from the CAP.
Derek, Lyndhurst, Hampshire
It seems absurd that an advanced industrial block such as the EU spends as much as 40% of its budget on farming. If the EU spent more on technological and scientific research then it could rival the US. If it does not, then it risks falling further behind. Economic growth, secure jobs and social security depend on research.
Matthew, Edinburgh, UK
The EU has had no audited accounts for the last 10 years, so before any "deal" is done with our money we should be given an accurate insight as to where our money has been spent. No other organisation could get away with this, why should the EU?
Similar clashes makes European Union weak and can ruin it in the end. EU leaders must initiate both political and financial reforms in order for EU to remain a significant world force in the face of growing Asia and Russia. I completely support British PM's position in this question.
Andrey, Kiev, Ukraine
The easiest thing to do would be to leave the EU and have a free trade agreement like Norway. Then we'd have a lot more money to spend on ourselves without worrying about the £3 billion back from the rebate. We'd even be able to pay more aid to poorer countries with the extra money we had! The British people never voted for anything more than a free trade bloc anyway!
Jon, Hampshire, UK
Forget the budget, Britain needs to get out while it still can. Let's not waste anymore money on this expensive mistake, and take back control of our own country. I can't complain at what France are saying, as they are trying to do the best for their country. I just wish we would do the same, and not roll over to be walked all over as we previously have done.
Darren, Staffs, UK
The British have realised that the world has moved on since the European project first began. Unless a budget is formulated that takes account of this change then the whole EU edifice will collapse, which would be no bad thing.
Peter Usher, Brighton, England
He who pays the piper calls the tune. The EU needs Britain's money, and will need to undertake even more substantial reform than Britain is proposing in order to cope without it. So a deal will be reached - eventually - and reached substantially on Britain's terms.
Alastair, London, UK
If the French refuse to even discuss the CAP until 2013 then the UK rebate should remain until that date. The French have been able to 'milk' the CAP for far longer than the UK has had a rebate. Even after the rebate we still pay considerable more that France. France was originally a big fish in a smallish pond - now with the recent new members it is now in a much bigger pond.
Everyone is making a lot of fuss, where it is just not needed. I think people are agreed that the agricultural policy should be reformed, as people from a lot of countries (not just the UK) have been saying for years. Also, in the union of European states, where all should be equal, the British rebate is simply unfair. Even without the rebate, the UK would neither be the biggest net payer into the EU (Germany) nor the biggest net payer per person (the Netherlands). Furthermore, Straw's comments on that a federal Europe is dead, because the Dutch and French rejected the constitution are totally out of order, as he is not in a position to judge why the Dutch and French rejected it.
Wouter Engels, Dutch national in UK
I have listened to Mr Straw with interest. Surely the simplest way to resolve the budget crisis is for all member states to agree the policy, and for each member state to pay for the implementation. So if France wants a large support for its farmers, their taxpayers will pay for it. This would also have the great benefit of any fraud being paid for by the country which carried out the fraud. That must lead to better governance. It would also reduce the level of administration at the heart of EU. Of course this would cause a problem for poor member states. This would be addressed by having an economic aid fund that would be financed by each member state according to its wealth. Let each member beg for aid and compete with Africa.
Roger Harris, Eltham, London
It's hard to understand why Britain (or Germany, Sweden or the Netherlands) agreed to the 2002 CAP agreement. Scrap the rebate and transfer CAP to regional aid and infrastructure spending, which help to raise the Union's floor not its ceiling.
There is such a cultural difference! The UK calls free trade "fair", France calls free trade "unfair". The UK calls subsidies "waste", we call it "public action". How can we remain in the same market if we do not agree on the rules? Let's just split!
Dominique, Paris, France
It just seems a shame to me that all the hot air produced at the EU meetings cannot be converted into some type of useful energy.
Franz Veason, Thomasburg, Ontario, Canada
The EU members can't even agree on how many members should be in the EU, the only thing they do agree on is how much they disagree with each other. So after ten years of no clear budget reforms, and nobody being sure of where the money is going anyway, the chances of them agreeing on anything are about the same as Elvis landing in a space ship, and bringing Kirk and Spock with him. Now as much as I'd like to see this happen, I don't think it will, and neither will a budget agreement happen in my lifetime unless the EU is taken over by a dictator of the Hitler sort.
Dave, Ramsgate, England
EU members will eventually agree on the EU budget since it's a must. There is no guarantee though that it will happen under the British presidency. But, this is not just about money, as Eastern member states have demonstrated, it's also about political willingness to further the European project. This is a Union of 25, not 6, therefore age-old policies such as the CAP need to be reformed to suit the enlarged Union. There will be a lot of backroom negotiations and deal making. After all, the success of the EU is largely a result of intense political compromises.
Aim Sinpeng, Bangkok, Thailand
For any European country which only wants a "free" membership in a free trade area, the WTO membership suffices. There is absolutely no need for such a country to pay money for "nothing" and be a member of any "Union"! That's only fair!
Nick Panayotopoulos, Athens, Greece
Would anyone want to remain a member of a club with no benefits or entitlement? Once we have politicians who are prepared to work completely voluntarily, then the EU will become reformed.
John Elton, Chesterfield, UK
Rich nations subsidising other rich nations can surely be seen to be illogical, even absurd? It is difficult to understand how we got to this point. It seems quite clear, quite obvious that from an objective point of view CAP must end then we can start to look at the issue of the British rebate.
Luke Beaumont, Oxford, UK
No, not while national greed is the primary position of the major players. If Europe is to succeed then all parties must approach the bargaining table as equals and all aspects of the economy must be debated and adjusted to benefit the majority and not national self interest.
Politicians are notoriously poor at spending the public's money. The EU has more politicians and bigger budgets and therefore wastes more. Scrap the EU, Scottish parliament, Welsh Assembly, and lets go back to a UK parliament, and then we could also scrap VAT.
Don, Carshalto, Surrey
Once again the media insist on concentrating on the negative. The positive side of EU membership is rarely if ever given any air time in the UK. It seems bad news is the only news worthy of coverage, never mind the millions of pounds and thousands of individuals that benefit in the UK from, for example the European Social Fund. Where is the balance that the BBC is supposed to provide?
Nigel Howells, Exeter, Devon
Some European countries are tying their future to the US. This alignment demonstrates that they are not ready to stand on their own and thus prevent a United Europe. Compromise is needed and if Mr Blair is not willing to compromise then let Britain go on its own. It seems that Britain sees itself as more American than European anyway.
Joao, Sacramento, USA
Joao, Sacramento, USA is absolutely right. Britain does not consider itself European too much. Britain's forced adoption into other countries in Europe will not work. We are an island nation who have more friendships 3,000 miles across the Atlantic in the USA than 30 miles or so away across the English Channel. Lets just accept that and pull out of the EU.
Peter Byrd, Worcester, UK
If Tony Blair is serious about reforming the CAP why didn't he do anything when the present policy was agreed in 2002?
Gordon Kite, Milan, Italy
There should be no EU budget at all. Let's agree limits on subsidies to prevent unfair competition and allow each country to subsidise its own farmers. No EU member deserves to get an economic handout- even Eastern Europe is rich by African standards.
Ted, Sunderland, UK
It's time France accepted the demise of the CAP if only because of its appalling effects on developing countries. It keeps millions in poverty for the benefit of a few uneconomic European farmers as well as making little sense for the future of Europe. I'm right behind Blair on this one.
Paul, Loughborough, UK
The Common Agricultural Policy can be fixed if the determination of intervention prices was afforded to a politically neutral authority along the lines of the European Central Bank. That way, the prices can be set so that farmers get their 'fair' share and so that the budget does not balloon due to the efforts of the French farmers' lobby.
Alex Mangan, Swindon, UK
Britain supports free trade and France supports protectionism. The two positions are absolutely incompatible. I cannot see the way through.
Carlos Cortiglia , London, United Kingdom
At some point all European leaders will recognise the need for change. However much France may be attached to it, protectionism is both outdated and unethical, not to mention the fact that paying farmers to be inefficient is beyond common sense.
The EU can still work as an international body with advantages to all its members, but only if members are willing to face the current realities of globalisation. Being open to free trade does not mean becoming clones of the USA - the Canadians are members of NAFTA and have a very different social model to the US.
Nick, Bromley, UK
Of course there will not be an agreement. They cannot even agree on what is open to negotiate, how could they possibly agree on the budget? This is just showing why a single state Europe is a pipe dream of paper pushers living in ivory towers.
Paul Astle (ex-pat), Lansdale, PA, USA
Before agreeing on a new budget the accounts of the last 10 years need to be agreed and confirmed.
John Denton, Northampton, UK
The people I've met here and fellow Europeans I've spoken to recently regard Blair as an American puppet, intent on changing the EU to be more open to intrusion for his political friends across the pond. It's a fact that despite the spin and rhetoric from Blair, Europeans will be very careful about agreements fostered by the British government. There's been much written here and elsewhere about the US reputation across the world plummeting, but Britons need to be aware that Britain is seen as so closely aligned with America, that its reputation is suffering too.
Alex, ex-pat Brit, Moscow, Russia
If the UK does not want high quality food but only so called "free market food", it is their problem. They can leave the EU. Let them eat bank notes if it is the only food they need.
Dominique, Paris, France
It's doubtful. As the EU gets larger, the diverse needs of its members will vie for priority and the unrealistic expectations of its individual populations that their expectations will be met will crash head on with the reality that at least some of them will be badly disappointed. It's is merely one more of the inherent contradictions built into this ill conceived structure called the EU.
UK farmers benefit largely from the CAP as well, so stop thinking that the UK has the answer for everything. You have fewer farmers so you get less. It is easy to always point the finger to the French. Let me remind you that you signed the CAP treaty 3 years ago and it did not seem to bother you then.
I'm sure politicians don't set out to get things quite so badly wrong each time but nevertheless they manage it. Every one of them will have a reason why their country shouldn't pay as much or should receive more and not one of them will compromise to reach an agreement. The whole thing is out of control and has been for years. The best option would be to wind it up and start again or, better yet, not start again.
David, Chelmsford, UK
Isn't it about time we called the whole EU fiasco to an end? I always thought that when you joined a 'club' (EU), you got to enjoy certain benefits. I'm prepared to be contradicted, but I can think of no benefit whatsoever belonging to this lot, run by washed up politicians!
Bev Wilson, Amersham, Bucks
As they don't seem to agree on anything else why would anyone think they will agree on this issue? It will end up with some kind of fudge which allows the status quo to remain by some other name.
Terry, Epsom, Surrey
This is the first year of a radical overhaul of the agricultural subsidy regime. Blair's usual posturing has failed to acknowledge that fact and that such an overhaul requires at least a few years to bed in. Perhaps if more people took the trouble to understand where their food comes from, the actual production costs involved and who the real financial winners and losers are, the politicians would get away with less of their lies and obfuscation.
Martin, Lampeter, Wales
Yes I believe it can be, if some countries in Europe give up self-interest and worked together. that includes Britain and France.
The benefit, as someone puts it, of contributing money to these extra members is that, in the long run, it benefits everyone if everyone is doing better. it does not benefit Britain to have potential importers of our goods who cannot afford them. In the same way that the US recognised that it needed to help bankrupt Europe after WWII, everyone benefits if everyone levels up, rather than down. A budget must be agreed for these very reasons.
Katherine, London, UK
With so many new countries wanting to join the EU, the pot of gold will soon dry up unless we reform the whole issue of funding. Without this reform the EU could be broke up into small united counties who share common goals.
Bumble, Dartford, UK
Nothing will happen, it never does. Each country is only out for itself, to get as much free money as they possibly can. Could someone explain to me the benefit of paying all these new members so much money?
Phil, Newcastle, UK
It is not a question whether they can or cannot. They have to otherwise the whole Union will go under. How to reach a consensus without violating national interests is another issue all together.
Mary McCannon, Budapest, Hungary
Never mind a new budget, it would be nice if they could get the current budget accepted by their auditors before they ask us for any more money. Any company with 10 years of un-auditable financial results would be in serious trouble with the Stock Exchange, the FIS, the tax authorities etc, etc. Obviously one rule for the EU and another for the rest of us.
John R. Smith, UK
Cutting the CAP would be political suicide for Chirac. However, nothing less than full reform can be acceptable otherwise 'Europe' will not move forward. If the French want to pay their farmers a fortune for uneconomic practices, they should pay for it themselves!
Gordon Macmillan, Falkirk, Scotland
Doubt it. Obliviously fine words will be said and objectives set. But when it comes down to contractual commitments on money, well each man for himself.
Al, Oxford, UK
I think Britain will have a big impact and is in a strong position to reach a deal with the EU budget. However, Europe has to adapt to the 21st century to benefit all member states.
Mike Poland, Macduff UK
Before any deal is reached the books must be signed off for the last year. Why does my local paper shop have to have its books signed off but not the EU?
David, London, UK