Persson sets out his objections to the EU budget

The EU summit in Brussels two weeks ago, which was supposed to finalise the budget from 2007 to 2013 became a much publicised disaster. In today's DN, prime minister Göran Persson gives his side of the story and says the proposal on the table did not meet Sweden's demands for a responsible, forward-looking and fair budget.

The first problem, according to Persson, was the overall budget of 870bn euros over the six years. This included the controversial agricultural subsidies as well as generous regional subsidies to established and wealthy member states. “To my eyes, that’s an indefensible position when it is the new member states who have the real need,” he wrote.

Persson wrote that if the balance of regional aid was weighted more in favour of the new member states, considerable savings could be made in the budget, bringing it more in line with Sweden’s wishes. He noted that there were five other countries which shared the Swedish position.

Persson’s second objection is to the common agricultural policy. It was established in the 1950’s and 1960’s in order to guarantee Europe’s food production. But, he pointed out, times have changed. He believes it would be wiser to invest more to make the EU more competitive. The current proposal is to earmark 15% of the budget for research and development and cross-border crime – not enough said Persson.

“The emphasis of the EU budget must be transferred quickly from agriculture to areas which will boost competitiveness, sustainable growth and employment,” he wrote. “Increased investment is needed in IT and to develop the telecommunications market and improve access to broadband. Environmentally friendly technology must be promoted and developed.”

Persson also said that education needs to be strengthened, with more movement possible for students and teachers.

Persson believes it would be more effective for the EU to increase its contributions to rural development and devolve much of the finance specifically for agriculture to a national level.

The final objection to the budget proposal was the imbalance between the net gains or losses of member states. Last year, Sweden paid 23bn kronor in EU contributions and received 11bn back in the form of agricultural and other subsidies. Persson claimed that Sweden’s current chances of getting a larger slice of the cake are limited due to its relatively small farming sector and because it has been successful in developing its own regions without EU help.

“This imbalance must be corrected,” he wrote. “It’s unacceptable that we pay the highest net contributions per capita. The proposal on the table at the summit would have meant an additional net burden of 800m kronor per year. I rejected it.”

Persson said a new “braking” mechanism is needed to protect against countries ending up with exaggerated contributions deficits.

Persson’s demands for a new EU budget are that it should reflect the future challenges facing the EU, that savings should be made in non-prioritised areas and that there should be protection against countries having large net deficits.

He closed his article by supporting British prime minister Tony Blair in his efforts to solve the EU crisis during the six months of the UK’s presidency.

“I hope and believe that he will take the initiative and break the current deadlock. Those of us who believe in the European project have a responsibility to contribute to the solution of the crisis.”

Sources: Dagens Nyheter