Nov 7, 2014 10:48 AM
Britain finds deal with EU over controversial bill
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 payment. But EU officials said the deal did not let Britain off the hook, merely reshuffled what it owes.
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, a move Prime Minister David Cameron called "appalling." Cameron is under pressure at home from political groups that want Britain to leave the EU, and the budget controversy has only amplified those calls.
After EU finance ministers discussed the budget issue on Friday, British Treasury chief George Osborne said that the British "have halved the bill. We have delayed the bill. We will pay no interest on the bill."
EU Budget Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, however, noted Britain's bill was trimmed by giving earlier access to a rebate the country was to receive next year anyway. Together with the money that would come anyway, she said, it brought the British bill to 1 billion euros, in line with Osborne's claim.
Even at home, in Cameron's Conservative party, questions were raised over the claim Britain had won a deal to pay less.
"We're meant to cheer," Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan asked. "Britain is worse off."
Osborne said 850 million pounds ($1.36 billion) would be due in two installments by the second half of next year instead of the Dec. 1 date it had originally been asked to pay by.
"This is far beyond what anyone expected us to achieve," Osborne said. Britain has support from countries like the Netherlands, Cyprus, Malta and a few others, which also saw a big increase in their contributions.
The new payment date is also well after general elections on May 7, when Britain's cantankerous relationship with the EU is bound to be a central theme.
The EU is often represented in Britain 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.
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.