PM faces tough EU talks

With only a few days left before the next European Union summit, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said yesterday that the 25-nation bloc faces difficult negotiations before its member states can strike a deal on the 2007-2013 budget. Karamanlis was one of eight European leaders set to meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London yesterday in an effort to find common ground on the EU’s finances for the six-year period. Blair’s plan to cut aid to new member states and review agricultural spending in 2008 has been met with strong opposition. Analysts say the failure to reach a budget deal at the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday could plunge the bloc into a prolonged crisis. «I cannot rule (a solution) out,» Karamanlis said. «We are at a delicate and sensitive phase of tough and painful negotiations.» «It is a difficult issue which has become harder after the failure to reach a decision in June,» he added. The talks are crucial for Greece as the budget period is considered the country’s last chance to get a significant financial boost from the EU, at least for the next few years. «It is likely that this will be the last (disbursement of) significant aid we will receive from the European Union for growth in rural parts of the country and the completion of infrastructure projects,» Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said yesterday. Opposition parties have criticized the government for entering the financial negotiations without publicly disclosing exactly what the country is seeking from the EU budget.