Czech Republic has more than most to celebrate over EU budget deal

Jiri Paroubek and Tony Blair, photo: CTK

Talks between European Union leaders dragged on into the early hours of Saturday morning, but at 2.30 am, Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair emerged with news for awaiting journalists. Against the odds, all 25 EU members had managed to hammer out a budget framework for the period 2007 to 2013. There were sighs of relief all round, not least from Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek. Under earlier proposals the Czech Republic had been one of the countries set to lose out in Britain's budget reform plans. David Vaughan was following the talks.

Jiri Paroubek and Tony Blair, photo: CTK
By and large in the Czech Republic the deal is seen as good news. All the earlier talk of reducing the slice of the EU cake going to new members like the Czech Republic and Poland was swept aside, and now this country is set to gain a good deal more than most. If you look at it per capita, each Czech will receive a total 330 euros annually from the EU budget, which is far more than Prime Minister Paroubek had hoped for a week ago. The Czech Republic will have a net income of around 3 billion euros annually and this will go especially into the development of poorer regions and agriculture. Further money will come from structural funds and there will be a special package for Prague. Libor Roucek, a Euro-MP for the ruling Social Democrats, is delighted with the deal:

"We got a very good outcome. Per capita the Czech Republic will receive the most money of all members between 2007 and 2013. So I think this is good news, and you can expect that in the European Parliament we will support the budget."

There was agreement at the summit that in 2008 and 2009 reform to the Common Agricultural Policy will be discussed. In the first half of 2009 the Czech Republic is going to hold the presidency of the EU. What stance do you think the Czech Republic will take in order to try to move reforms on?

"The Czech Republic is not an agricultural country. We are an industrial country, a country that is looking towards the future. In other words the Czech Republic is on the reformist side. We would like to reform the Common Agricultural Policy, because I think that if more than 40% of the budget goes to agriculture at a time when Europe wants to be the most competitive economy on the global stage, we have to reform the agricultural policy and put more money into education, research, science, high technology, so that we are competitive."

The right-of-centre opposition Civic Democrats, have criticized some aspects of the deal. They point out that the figures being discussed - that certainly do sound very generous - are not money that the Czech Republic is guaranteed to receive. A lot of it will be tied up with specific projects. These projects will have to be thought out in detail over the next twelve months, and EU support will have to be matched with funds coming from within the country itself. Jan Zahradil is a Euro-MP for the Civic Democrats, a party which is firmly against further EU integration:

Jan Zahradil
"There was a consensus between the government and the main opposition party that this compromise is agreeable and acceptable for the Czech Republic."

But do you have any misgivings about the budget as agreed, things that the Czech Republic could have negotiated better?

"No, I think that within the limits given by the common will of the member states it was hardly possible to achieve more. What is more significant for me is the fact that the overall volume of this budgetary framework is much less than previously expected. The budget is restrictive and this gives a clear signal that member states are not willing to continue in deepening European integration."

But can't more money simply mean a more efficient Europe - which is what everybody wants, regardless of their views on integration?

"If it was like this, it would be okay. The sad truth is that this budget, however restrictive it is, is not a reform budget for the European Union, but rather a budget of the status quo."

The third main political force, the Communist Party, retains its traditional anti-EU stance, but, unusually on the Czech political scene, the two big parties do see more or less eye to eye and are generally satisfied. While Mr Blair probably wasn't doing himself many favours back home in Britain when he agreed to compromise, his Czech counterpart Mr Paroubek came home basking in the reflected glory of the agreement.