BRUSSELS - The expanding EU should give half its regional aid to the 10 poorer countries joining the bloc in May, even though they amount to less than 20 percent of the population, the European Commission said Jan. 19.
Regional Policy Commis-sioner Michel Barnier is working on the principle of a 50-50 share between the current 15 members and the 10 mostly ex-communist newcomers as part of budget plans being drawn up for the period from 2007.
The equal share "is not a political decision but results from the forecasts we can make today," given the available data, said a spokesman for the French commissioner.
The Brussels spokesman said decisions on the multibillion euro regional aid handouts should be based on the "objective application of criteria," including notably the per capita gross domestic product but also unemployment levels.
Per capita GDP in almost all the incoming member states is less than 75 percent of the EU average, making them eligible for higher regional aid payouts. The Baltic countries, the only former Soviet republics that will be joining the bloc, are at the bottom of the list of acceding countries on the GDP per capita basis, which could make them eligible for the most aid. (See story on Page 13.)
Only the regions around the Czech and Slovak capitals Prague and Bratislava, as well as Cyprus, would not meet the conditions for the highest level of aid, according to commission calculations.
Meanwhile, up to 18 regions in the 15 current EU member states could lose their eligibility for such aid, since the bloc's enlargement will take their per capita GDP above the cut-off level of 75 percent.
Regional aid is the second biggest item in the EU's budget after farm spending and is likely to be a key bone of contention in the upcoming budget wrangling. It is expected to consume up to 47 billion euros by 2011.
It was unclear, however, how the December row over the proposed EU constitution would play into regional finance, as some French and German ministers hinting that funds could be withheld if the newer, smaller states did not support the draft constitution.
The EU executive is due to present its proposals for the so-called financial perspectives on Feb. 10, kicking off what many expect to be a prolonged budget battle between Brussels and EU member states.
The addition of the 10 acceding countries' population of 80 million will make the bloc home to 450 million people.