Blair faces a hard sell in Tallinn

  • 2005-11-30
  • By TBT staff
TALLINN - U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair was due to arrive in the Estonian capital on Dec. 1 to convince his Baltic colleagues of the need to make drastic cuts to the European Union's 2007 's 2013 budget. His audience, however, was determined to stick to its own agenda, with Baltic leaders saying they would object to any proposed cuts in financial assistance.
Blair's visit was part of his whirlwind tour through the member states, as the United Kingdom attempts to unravel the budget deadlock in the last month of its European Council presidency.
According to reports, part of Blair's proposal includes a 10 percent cut in infrastructure projects concentrated in the union's 10 new member states. Sources say Blair will try to convince Baltic ministers that some money is better than no money, and that everyone must be prepared to make sacrifices.

EU leaders are scheduled to meet in December and hammer out the budget outline. If they walk away without a deal, the union risks its worse crisis of confidence ever.

Blair himself has reportedly admitted that the United Kingdom was prepared to give up its lucrative rebate, granted to Margaret Thatcher when the U.K. joined the union back in the 1980's, in order to get a budget deal.

Various media reports suggested Britain wanted to cut every member's payment to the EU budget from 1.6 to 1.03 percent of EU domestic product, or a difference of 25 billion euros.

Lithuanian leaders said they would object to the proposal.

"As far as I understand, the United Kingdom and Mr. Blair has another version, which we do not find satisfactory because it stipulates cutting cohesion and structural funds by 10 percent as compared with the earlier draft," Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas said Nov. 29.

"We will stick to our stance - 4 percent of the GDP [percentage of GDP to be granted to support]," he said.

If the British proposal is approved, Lithuania will be deprived of approximately 600 million euros worth of EU assistance.

Estonia would lose nearly 5 billion kroons (320 million euros) in seven years, the Postimees reported.

Valdis Dombrovskis, a Latvian member of the European Parliament, told the daily Telegraf that, if Great Britain succeeded, the Baltic state would receive "several hundred million euros less than Luxembourg promised."

Luxembourg headed the previous EU presidency that ended in June.

Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis said Lithuania would express support for a letter penned by the EU's 10 newcomers. "In the letter we will remind the old members of the solidarity in the European Union. The solidarity principle suggests the weak should be helped."

The communication office of the Estonian government said the budget agreement should meet a number of terms, one of the most important being that the union's cohesion policy must be central to any budget deal and its means must be directed to new member countries first and foremost.

"Otherwise, it will not be realistic to speak about politics aimed at eroding away economic and social differences between the member countries," he said.