• 2005-12-07
U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair left Tallinn last week with about as much as he arrived: next to nothing. Hear him out, his Baltic colleagues did, but the Briton's speech was more form than substance. When it comes to budget policy, even the uninitiated are aware that the devil is in the details (which means that the seven-year EU budget houses an entire legion of hellish ghouls).

Blair is making a last-ditch effort to broker an EU budget deal and prevent the union from sinking deeper into its current funk. It is an arduous, seemingly impossible task, but he is largely to blame for letting the situation get this bad. His proposal: Baltic and East European leaders should agree to a cut in funds over the next several years for the sake of overall European "certainty" and "development." "In the European Union, we could have a budget that would be aligned with the actual interests of the EU," he told a press conference in Tallinn.

Sure enough, the demonic details came out after Blair's visit. He has proposed that a total 24 billion euros be slashed from the 2007 's 2013 financial perspective. Out of that, 14 billion euros represents structural and cohesion funds, money designated to boost the infrastructure of new members states and assist them in "catching up" to Western Europe. The Baltic states alone would lose as much as 1 billion euros over seven years. Poland would be deprived of more than 5 billion; expectedly, they have been the most vociferous in criticizing the proposal.

Great Britain, in the meantime, would actually have a net gain if the proposal were adopted, while France would be able to keep all its farmers on the Brussels feeding trough. In a nutshell, the much-needed reform of the EU budget, about which so much has been said, boils down to a massive cut in aid for the developing "part" of the union.

Not pretty. Which is why East European leaders are using such words as "unfair" and "discriminatory" in their reaction to Great Britain's proposal. "Betrayal" is yet another.

At the same time one could argue with the old folk wisdom that "he who pays the piper calls the tune," and in a fundamental way would be right. Likewise, the famous twist on the golden rule could also be conjured 's "he who has the gold makes the rules." The new member states should take what they can get, even if it is substantially less than originally planned; either way they'll finish ahead.

But these are not the principles upon which the European Union was built, and will build. If sacrifices are to be made, they should be made across the board. If the financial perspective is to be truly reformed for the betterment of the union, the Brits should give up part of their rebate, French farmers their fat subsidies, and East Europeans a slice of the structural pie. Prime Minister Andrus Ansip referred to it as "solidarity." We would just call it common sense.