Blow for PM's Fight to Retain EU Rebate; U.K. GETS TOO MUCH CASH BACK, SAYS COMMISSION BOSS

Article excerpt

Byline: JASON BEATTIE

THE European Union's top official today delivered a heavy blow to Tony Blair's efforts to keep Britain's EU rebate.

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said the [pounds sterling]3 billion-a-year rebate Britain gets from the EU was no longer "appropriate".

His comments, after talks with Mr Blair at Chequers this morning, come as Britain prepares for a crunch meeting this Sunday on EU spending plans. The UK wants to block a proposal to freeze Britain's rebate in 2007, then cut it from 2008.

But Mr Barroso undermined Britain's negotiating position when he said it could afford to contribute more to Brussels.

"When the UK got its rebate there were good reasons. The situation has changed," he said.

"Britain is much more prosperous that 20 years ago and the EU has changed."

He added that it was not fair for EU newcomers to be paying more than the UK.

His words are embarrassing for Mr Blair, who pressed for Mr Barroso to become Commission president despite objections by other European leaders. A No 10 spokesman insisted the rebate was not negotiable, saying: "Our position remains the same. …