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Nov 7, 2014 6:13 AM

EU, Britain battle over big extra budget payment

The Associated Press

BRUSSELS (AP) It's high noon for Britain and the European Union over a 2.1 billion euro ($2.7 billion) bill that London is refusing to pay at short notice.

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.

As EU finance ministers tackled the sensitive issue Friday, British Treasury chief George Osborne said the demand for the extra money was "unacceptable," echoing Cameron who had called the size of the increase and the deadline "appalling."

The standoff 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.

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said a potential solution was being worked out that would spread Britain's payment out to September, giving Britain a breathing space of 10 months instead of barely three weeks.

"A compromise is being established around this proposal," he said.

It remained unclear whether that would be acceptable for Britain if the total amount due remains the same.

Britain has support from countries like the Netherlands, Cyprus, Malta and a few others, which also saw a big increase in their contributions.

"We have some kind of understanding of the fact that if a country has been met by a very large payment that there should be some kind of flexibility," said Danish Economics Minister Morten Ostergaard, backing up the thrust of the compromise.

In Britain, the spat has been a gift to Euroskeptics.

Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-EU U.K. Independence Party, said Cameron's vow not to pay the extra bill by Dec. 1 was empty rhetoric. "If he plays the tough man and doesn't pay it by December 1, he will pay it on December 2," he told LBC radio.

Anti-EU views have gained momentum in Britain, with the union 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.


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