Tough talks in Brussels

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday struggled to secure the best possible cut for Greece from the European Union’s Fourth Community Support Framework, as EU leaders clashed over the bloc’s long-term financing at a tense summit in Brussels. As of late last evening, it remained unclear how much of the EU’s budget for 2007-2013 would be apportioned to Greece. However, if a final deal is reached on the basis of the European presidency’s latest proposal – for the budget to comprise 1.04 percent of the bloc’s gross domestic product (GDP) – then Greece should pocket between 13 and 14 billion euros, according to European Commission sources. Other commentators believe Athens might net a few billion more. Greece has said that 12.5 billion euros would be the minimum acceptable amount for its cut. The main source of tension at yesterday’s summit was between the majority of member states who support the proposals of Luxembourg’s EU presidency for the bloc’s funding and the handful of «hard-core» players – including Britain, France, Holland and Germany – who want to restrict the size of the budget to 1 percent of GDP. The most stubborn defense was put up by Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende who appeared determined to gain some ground for his country, whose vote against the European Constitution earlier this month dealt a severe blow to his government. The tense atmosphere was further aggravated by Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, who called for the budget debate to be postponed by a year. According to sources, Karamanlis, during talks with his counterparts especially from Spain, Portugal and Ireland, highlighted the need to reach a budget decision under the bloc’s current Luxembourg presidency, as the upcoming British presidency is likely to favor a lower budget ceiling. Also, a change of guard on Germany’s political stage – with the opposition Christian Democrats likely to take power soon – would probably mean a stricter fiscal policy for the EU, Karamanlis was cited as saying.

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