NEWS

Athens to fight for EU funds

The prime minister gathered with his close aides yesterday to discuss Greece’s negotiating stance ahead of a two-day EU leaders’ summit which begins today in Brussels amid fears that the funding that Athens receives from the Union will be drastically reduced in the future. A range of issues, such as enlargement and the European Constitution, will be discussed at what promises to be one of the EU’s most crucial summits ever, but Costas Karamanlis’s eyes are likely to be fixed on more mundane funding matters. Greece wants to secure 18-19 billion euros, rather than the 15 billion proposed by larger countries. In the wake of the «no» votes in the French and Dutch referendums on the European Constitution, there are widespread doubts about where the Union should go next, and this is particularly evident in the area of funding. Upon emerging from a meeting with the prime minister, Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis painted a bleak picture of Greece’s prospects: «Things in Europe are not good at the moment because the results of the referendums have created a lot of anxiety and political implications. This, naturally, affects the negotiations on funding,» he said. There is a huge divergence between the 25 EU leaders on how the Fourth Community Support Framework, which runs from 2007 to 2013, should be distributed. In the buildup to the summit, foreign ministers failed this week to agree on a deal to decide how funds will be shared. Last year’s enlargement, in which the bloc took on 10 more members, has complicated matters further. «The EU budget is being reduced and the number of those who are entitled to a share of it has grown since 10 new members joined – which are all poorer than the previous [15] members. The major problem is how we are going to protect our interests and our positions,» said Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis after meeting with the PM. Britain has already clashed with its partners, notably France, over farm spending, which accounts for some 40 percent of the EU’s annual budget. London says it will veto any budget deal if it is forced to surrender its treasured rebate, which reimburses it by some 5 billion euros each year for its hefty payments to the EU. «All this has created a very difficult atmosphere, with many uncertainties, as to whether there will be a final result from this summit, and if there is, what the outcome will be,» added Alogoskoufis. Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Austria and Sweden all contribute more to the EU budget than they get back in benefits. They want spending in 2007-2013 capped at 1 percent of member states’ gross national income. Spain, Portugal and Greece, and the new Eastern European members want spending to be set at 1.24 percent. Meanwhile, the thorny issue of Turkey’s membership talks is likely to stay off the agenda after EU foreign ministers approved a protocol to expand Ankara’s customs union to include the 10 newest members but agreed that Turkey would not be mentioned by name during the summit.