Persson and Blair in EU budget alliance

Göran Persson has backed British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his campaign to reform the European Union budget, at a meeting between the two prime ministers in London ahead of Britain's six month EU presidency, which starts on July 1st.

The Swedish prime minister used Tuesday’s meeting in Downing Street to blast Europe’s outdated financing structure.

He said Britain’s rebate was just one of the issues discussed at a failed EU summit in Brussels last Thursday and Friday that threw the 25-nation bloc further into crisis following a failure of its draft constitution.

“It is not fair to describe the conflict about the budget as a question just being about the British rebate. No, it’s a discussion about the structure of the whole budget,” Persson told a joint news conference.

Even if the rebate problem had been solved, Sweden for one still had problems with the wider budget, in particular the CAP, he said.

“It’s not future oriented to go for the CAP, a policy… that is connected with the Second World War,” the Swedish prime minister added.

Blair reiterated that he would only negotiate on the British rebate if the whole budget was put on the table:

“If we want to make sure that Europe at this moment in time is getting the right budget and the right financing for the future then it is not obstructive or difficult to raise these issues it’s actually in the interests of Europe as a whole,” the British leader said.

Persson told Swedish Radio that he thought the crisis in the EU created new opportunities. He said that the European countries faced a choice between the “British idea” and the “old ways that don’t work.”

Of those who disagreed with Britain he said:

“If you reject the British ideas, what have you got instead?”

Asked whether the two countries were entering into a “coalition of the willing” on the EU budget, Persson replied that the relationship could develop in that direction. Blair called the relationship a modernising alliance.

Looking to the British presidency that will lead the EU over the next sixth months, Persson declared that he was optimistic:

“I expect a lot from the British presidency,” he told Swedish Radio, adding that Blair would be a strong leader for the EU:

“We should bear in mind that he is a re-elected prime minister on one of Europe’s leading and largest countries. The other colleagues of his in countries of a similar size don’t have the same strength domestically,” said Persson.

AFP/The Local