ECONOMY

At least 8.8 bln to be paid to new EU member states

BRUSSELS – Ten candidates hoping to join the European Union in two years’ time could receive at least 8.8 billion euros from the EU budget in the years 2004-2006, according to a European Commission proposal. The Commission’s preliminary calculations, seen by Reuters on Monday, were sent late last week to the current 15 member states for study. Under the Commission plan, the 10, mostly ex-communist, new members would receive about 24.3 billion euros in aid from the EU budget; 6.14 billion euros in 2004, 8.01 billion euros in 2005 and 10.1 billion euros in 2006. They will be required to contribute some 15.5 billion euros over the same period to the budget – 5.05 billion euros in 2004, 5.14 billion euros in 2005 and 5.32 billion euros in 2006, according to the paper. «It is a working document needed to target the discussion properly,» Commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori told a news briefing. He declined to confirm the figures. The EU budget now amounts to some 98 billion euros annually, about 80 percent of which is spent on farm support programs and aid to poor regions. Filori suggested the eventual net inflows to new member states might be higher than those proposed in the paper because the forecast does not take into account annual «lump-sums» that the EU plans to allocate to new member states to ensure that they do not become net payers to the EU. The EU plans to wrap up accession talks by the end of 2002 with Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Malta and to welcome them as new members in 2004. The Commission report forecast that Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Malta – the richest of the group – could become net payers in 2004 without the lump-sum mechanism. This is due to be negotiated in November and December. «It is the final outcome that counts,» Filori said when asked whether the candidates might not find the amount of EU aid too modest. The document said that Poland, the biggest EU candidate, could see its net benefits from the EU increase by a mere 24 million euros in 2004 from 2003. This is because in 2003 Poland is due to receive some 846 million euros in pre-accession aid, but the country will not have to pay its contribution to the bloc’s budget. Poland’s budgetary contribution would grow from 2.4 billion euros in 2004 to some 2.6 billion euros in 2006. Each member’s contribution to the EU budget is calculated on the basis of its customs receipts, the size of its gross national product and value-added tax revenues. The Commission’s forecast only covers the period up to 2006, when the EU’s current six-year budgetary period ends.