Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Blair Witch Project


That’s the headline in today’s Gazeta Wyborcza, describing the Polish attitude to Tony Blair’s plan to ‘reform’ the way European Union does its business.

The British Guardian reports that France and Poland are spearheading the attack on Blair’s attempt to get a compromise agreement on the EU 2007-2013 budget, which plans to cut spending by 16 billion euros.

Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, the Polish prime minister, underlined the deep unease in Eastern Europe at Britain's plan to slash their structural funds by £9.3bn. "The proposal is not based on solidarity," he said. "In this form it is unacceptable."

In a sign of Britain's isolation, the European commission's president, Jose Manuel Barroso, added his voice.” This proposal amounts to a budget for a 'mini-Europe', not the strong Europe we need."

Britain hopes to win round the new member states by proposing four measures that will make it easier for them to spend the £100bn they will be offered in structural funds. These are: cutting the level of cofinancing the new members will have to provide from 20% to 15%; allowing private funds to be included in co-financing; giving an extra year to spend the money; and allowing inner-city housing to be funded. Mr Straw said: "This is an enormous amount. The total funds for the new member states is twice the amount of the Marshall Fund that rebuilt Western Europe 60 years ago."

There has been some surprise that Poland and the other 8 countries from Central Europe that entered the EU in May last year are so opposed to cutting budgets and liberalizing markets. And that surprise is not just limited to Britain. Whatever happened to Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘New Europe’, many Americans are asking themselves?

But the ‘New Europe’ thing always was a load of tosh. The reason that countries like Poland wanted to get into the EU in the first place was to get their hands on some much needed investment – not to have Brussels tell them to put funny little traffic light symbols on their food packaging and regulate how to throw away their rubbish.
Poland wants structural funds to help with infrastructure projects like road building and repair – Polish roads currently have more holes in them than a string vest.

So the prospect of Britain getting a deal when the nations meet on December 16 looks slim, though Poland is under enormous pressure to find a compromise, as it cannot start planning for expenditure in the 2007-13 period until a budget is agreed.

For Poland, Blair’s six-month presidency of the EU has turned into a horror movie.

The beatroot is going to be spending some EU money of its own this week, as I am being sent – at the EU's expense – to Dublin to do some reporting. So the next post will be from the Emerald Isle. See you then.

8 comments:

Michael M. said...

Blair really strikes me as an engima wrapped up in another, even bigger, enigma. On the one hand, the UK recently pushed for more generous aid to Africa, even though it's debatable if it will help, and at the same time it is now pushing for slashing Eastern European access to EU funds. (The Emerald Isle, appropriately, is living proof that such funds do make a serious difference.)

I genuinely believe that the Easterlings (and particularly Poland) will make or break the EU. And I don't really feel like they're being taken quite so seriously. Which is a shame.

Michael Farris said...

Milej zabawy przy korycie.


(Have a nice time at the feeding trough, the most common metaphor in poland for public "service".)

Gustav said...

The key villain here is clearly France. CEE countries are losing out on aid because the French won't budge on the CAP. Blair is right to link the British rebate to the CAP, as Britain receives far less agricultural aid than other EU states. If Europe really wanted to demonstrate "Solidarity," then the British, the New Europe 10, and those who benefit most from the 42% of the EU budget gushing into unfair agricultural subsidies would all cut back on the feeding at the trough.

Reforming EU farm subsidies would also go a long way in helping that "generous aid" actually generate sustainable economic activity in Africa.

What's baffling me is how Britain ends up the boogeyman in this. How have the French managed to get every one to turn on the British when it's clearly the Frogs who aren't living up to their side of the bargain?

Michael Farris said...

The soft bigotry of low expectations?

No one expects the French government to act in a responsible, fair or reasonable manner, and people do expect it from the British government.

But since Poland hasn't actually been able to, you know, _utilize_ anywhere near the amount of EU funds potentially available, I'm not sure why cutting back a relatively small portion is such a big deal.

And Marcinkiewicz's tough guy performance in all this is only slightly less ludicrous than Tusk's. Poland needs to face a few facts: The choice to be as pro-American as it's possible for a government to be has cost Poland in terms of EU prestige and allies (especially since the change in government in Spain) and it has no real bargaining power in this particular question. Someone needs to explain the lyrics of "The Gambler" to the Polish government (knowing when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em would have a big civilizing influence on Polish politicians).

beatroot said...

But the macho Polish bit is a pose. They want the subsidies as much as the French, if not more. The French side has to appear tough for its electorate. And the British have to hang on to Maggie Thatcher's rebate cause that is a sign of national muscle and how Brussels ain't gonna push us around.

The EU is now just a place where national politicians go to look good.

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