» Friday, December 16, 2005

EU Summit

Asked what stage the negotiations had reached so far, and was Britain tabling formal proposals, and also, did those proposals include increased payments by Britain, the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister had met separately Chancellor Merkel, President Chirac, Prime Minister Zapatero, Chancellor Schuessel, and the Hungarian Prime Minister this morning. The Prime Minister was also holding another meeting with Chancellor Merkel and President Chirac this morning, the Foreign Secretary had met others as well. In terms of the plenary, the Prime Minister would use that to update the leaders on where we were, a report-back session.

The PMOS said he did not anticipate that we would put any proposals on the table before that report-back, but the Prime Minister would use that occasion to set out where he thought we were. With regards to our position, we had always said that we were prepared to pay our fair share of enlargement, but equally, we had to recognise that the budget situation was tight, and the room for manoeuvre was tight. Equally importantly for us was that we needed a review of the European budget, and that was recognised and supported by others as well. That review had to be meaningful. There had been a lot of good, hard work done this morning, but the issues remained difficult, and that work had to continue. The important thing was that we believed that people, as President Barroso said this morning, were trying to get an agreement.

Asked how long the Prime Minister was prepared to stay in Brussels tonight to seek an agreement, the PMOS said that the one thing he did not bring with him to Brussels was his crystal ball! However, we knew that there was a lot of work to be done, and we wanted to get an agreement. We also did not believed the issues were going to get any easier, and we thought there was a willingness to try and reach a deal. However, what we had to recognise, and be realistic about was that this would be a deal that would be nobody’s ideal deal. However, the PMOS stressed again that the issues were difficult and the way in which they interlinked was also difficult, and therefore, we had to adopt a very realistic approach.

Asked to clarify what was happening regarding Macedonia’s status, the PMOS replied that the leaders had agreed to look at the issue later in the day.

Asked if the Prime Minister was meeting Chancellor Merkel and President Chirac together, and if so why, and also, was the purpose of that meeting to "hammer out" the nature of a review clause that was satisfactory to the signatories of the 2002 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the PMOS replied that as he had said throughout, he was not going to get involved in the details of negotiations. Everyone recognised that we did have to make a review meaningful, whilst recognising people’s sensitivities and their positions. Were we going to get immediate change today? The answer would be "no", as that was not what we were seeking. What the Prime Minister had said in June was that there had to be a process that allowed a more rational EU budget, and that position had not changed. With regards to whom the Prime Minister met, it would be whomever he thought necessary, but he would also try to keep all 25 leaders up to date on where we were.

Asked if we could envisage any deal emerging from the talks which would leave Britain paying more money and no deal on opening of talks on the CAP, the PMOS said that our position had not changed. As the PMOS had told journalists before, we were prepared to pay our fair share of enlargement, but the money was tight. Equally, we believed that in terms of overall contributions, we and similar sized countries should have rough parity. In terms of review of the EU Budget, including the rebate and the CAP, that should be meaningful. Those were the positions, and that remained the case.

Asked if there was any chance that this deal could keep the bargaining under the ceiling of the last proposal, or did the global sum have to be raised, and also, how was the atmosphere in the room, the PMOS replied that these were serious negotiations and big decisions, and that was why it was important to try and get them right. It was also the case that people were approaching the discussions in a very serious way, and that serious work was being done. What that did not guarantee, however, was success; it was a hard, but good morning’s work. With regards to the first part of the question, the PMOS replied that as we had said all along, the financial position was very tight, and it remained so.

Put that Jack Straw had said on the radio this morning that the meaningful review would be subject to unanimity in terms of being proposed, and that meant it would essentially be a debate about the budget in future, but that did not seem practically possible that there could be any cut to the CAP’s spending, therefore would there not be a French veto, the PMOS said it was a simple fact that we did proceed on the basis on unanimity. Equally, it was a simple fact that nobody should judge the outcome of a review carried out by a Commission in advance. What also did not change was the realities of globalisation, and the realities of the changing economic picture worldwide, or the development of China and India, and the opportunities and challenges to Europe that that offered. People could not be too categorical about the outcome of a process that had not yet been agreed. What was important was precisely the opposite: that we were not categorical, but rather, we recognised that the budget did need to be reviewed. That was something that the Prime Minister set out in his speech in June to the EU Parliament which was well received. It also reflected the simple reality of the world economic position and globalisation as reflected in the WTO round.

Asked if there had been any shift by any of the member states, including Britain, on their positions, and if not, how did we intend to "clinch a deal" by the end of the day if there had been no shift, the PMOS replied that it was never a good idea to give a running commentary whilst in the middle of negotiations. What was better was that we tried to get a deal that although not anybody’s ideal deal, did meet people’s genuine needs and concerns, and allowed Europe to move forward. That was what we were trying to do. It also allowed us to embark on a process to look at a rational EU budget.

Asked if it all boiled down to the key sticking point being the review clause and the question of where it gets implemented, the PMOS said that everybody would have their own concerns, but for us, the review clause and its need for clarity was a issue that we needed to address. That, however, was only saying what we had been saying all along. Equally, others would have other concerns. The important thing was that as always, could we come up with a deal that met people’s essential concerns.

Put that there had been no mention of meetings with Poland, and did that mean that that problem had been sorted out, and also, why was the Prime Minister "reporting back" rather than making a new proposal, as time was running out, the PMOS said that what was important was that we used the time as effectively as possible to assess where we were, to explore possible solutions, and to keep people informed. The plenary session later would keep other leaders informed as to the Prime Minister’s assessment of where we were going. In terms of putting down hard proposals, the important thing was that people did not jump too many hurdles too soon, as it was better to try and assess where people were. As for meeting with other individual countries, the Prime Minister had to work through various issues before he moved onto others.

Asked how much room for manoeuvre there remained when it came to the rebate, and what was the position when it came to the demands of a permanent change, and also some people believed it would be possible to get a deal next year if there was no deal today, and would any proposals that came out of today’s summit survive until the next summit, the PMOS replied that people should take one summit at a time, rather than look too far ahead. The issues did not change, and it did not get "magically" easier. We would still have the same problems to address and people’s assessment was that this was the best chance to try and get a deal. However, nobody should underestimate the difficulty of the issues. The best thing to do was let the leaders get on and try to resolve them, and the Prime Minister would report back later this afternoon.

Briefing took place at 6:00 | Search for related news

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