Tony Blair will today begin two days of talks with European leaders at Downing Street to try to secure their support for Britain’s proposals for the EU budget.
The prime minister is making a last diplomatic push to reach a deal on reforming the 2007-13 budget ahead of crunch talks between member states next week.
During a meeting of EU foreign ministers yesterday, Britain was left isolated over its plans to scale back the total budget and cut funding for the ten new accession states, with only Malta giving its full support.
However, speaking to reporters afterwards, foreign secretary Jack Straw said: “What we are seeking to do is pay our fair contribution and exactly how much it is, is to be judged, but we think the offer we made was a fair one.”
An inability to secure a deal would be widely seen as a failure for Britain’s presidency of the EU, which ends on December 31st.
The prime minister’s official spokesman yesterday said that “inevitable” there would be discussions on the budget proposals, but it would be up to individual states on December 15th to choose between the reality of getting a deal, and holding out for a perfect solution.
Britain had tried to get a deal which met most people’s concerns, he said, and Mr Blair’s talks today and tomorrow would be a key part of achieving this. He added that the government thought it was taking a “realistic and practical approach” to the budget.
Mr Blair will meet with the leaders of Belgium, Portugal, Finland, Slovenia, Sweden and the Netherlands at Downing Street today, and tomorrow will speak with the Luxembourg premier on the phone, and see the Irish, Greek and Spanish prime ministers.
Under the government’s plans, the total budget would be cut from the ?1,025 billion proposed earlier this year (1.24 per cent of the total national income of member states) to ?847 billion (1.03 per cent).
This would cut the funding promised to the ten new member states by ?14 billion to ?150 billion, but Mr Straw insisted there would be “practical changes” to remove the obstacles that currently exist to spending this money.
On the controversial issue of Britain’s ?5 billion rebate, secured by Margaret Thatcher in 1984, the government has proposed that Britain pay an extra ?8 billion into the EU budget over seven years.
The proposals, published on Monday, received a mixed response, with the Netherlands and the Czech republic giving them a cautious welcome, but EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso dismissed them as “unacceptable” and “not realistic”.