Nov 7, 2014 9:08 AM
Britain claims victory in EU budget payment battle
The Associated Press
BRUSSELS (AP) Britain claimed victory on Friday in its standoff with the European Union over a 2.1 billion euro ($2.7 billion) budget contribution, saying it was able to reduce and delay the bill.
British Treasury chief George Osborne said after a meeting of EU finance ministers that the British "have halved the bill, we have delayed the bill, we will pay no interest on the bill."
He said payments would be due in the second half of next year, well after general elections on May 7, when Britain's cantankerous relationship with the EU is bound to a central theme.
Friday's decision would spread Britain's payment out to next September, giving Cameron a breathing space of 10 months instead of barely three weeks.
Osborne said 850 million pounds ($1.36 billion) would be paid "in two installments in the second half of next year." And he said the EU rules were changed to make sure such drastic demands would never come back.
"This is far beyond what anyone expected us to achieve," Osborne said. The EU presidency confirmed a deal, but offered no details.
The EU last month reassessed how much each of its 28 member states needs to contribute to its budget and made Britain's top-up the highest. To make matters worse for Prime Minister David Cameron, it added a tight Dec. 1 deadline. It was a move Cameron called "appalling."
Britain has support from countries like the Netherlands, Cyprus, Malta and a few others, which also saw a big increase in their contributions.
The fight over the one-time extra contribution comes at a particularly sensitive time for the British government, which is dealing with a surge in anti-EU sentiment at home, with some politicians calling for Britain to leave the EU altogether. The union is often represented as a money-sucking bureaucracy that has flooded the country with immigrants from eastern and southern Europe.
The Conservative-led British government has promised to seek to revamp the EU and renegotiate Britain's membership on better terms before holding a referendum on the issue in 2017.
During a visit to Finland on Friday, Cameron got support on reforming the EU, too. "Does the British PM have allies and friends around him? The answer is yes," said Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb.
But many EU countries, led by Germany and even Britain's usual allies in northern Europe, have shown little enthusiasm for ideas such as restricting the free movement of people within the bloc, a core EU principle.
Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.