Czechs: Blair EU budget proposals "worth discussing"

Prime Minister Tony Blair, photo: CTK

It might have been attacked on all sides, but Tony Blair's controversial EU budget proposal has received a cautious welcome in the Czech Republic. Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek described the proposal - flatly rejected by France, Poland and the European Commission - as realistic and worth discussing. Mr Paroubek said the proposal might look like less money for the Czechs and other new EU members, but new rules for accessing structural funds would make up the difference. Ivo Slosarcik is from the European Policy Institute:

Prime Minister Tony Blair,  photo: CTK
"Of three potential reforms of the European budget for the next seven years, which is reform of the budget rebate, reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, and reform of regional policy, Mr Blair's proposals focus only, or almost exclusively, on reform or restrictions in regional policy and on restrictions towards new member states, so it seems that Mr Blair in his proposals has chosen the target where he expects the least intensive resistance, at least from his perspective."

Nonetheless there has been a great deal of resistance to these proposals from these countries already, especially from France and Poland. Mr Blair has been described by some as a sort of Robin Hood in reverse - robbing the poor to give to the rich. Is that a fair label?

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek,  photo: CTK
"This label is slightly emotional. Mr Blair is not robbing something from the poor countries and giving it to the rich. Effectively he's restricting the level of redistribution in the European budget. These new proposals are not about robbing someone. They are indicating a decreasing level of solidarity and an increasing level of selfishness if we can put it that way, among old members states against the new ones."

These proposals have been attacked from all sides, as Blair predicted. But while they've been criticised by Poland and Hungary, the Czech prime minister Jiri Paroubek said they could be discussed. Why are the Czechs prepared to consider them whereas the Poles and Hungarians aren't?

"It's a question of negotiation strategy. Maybe the Polish negotiators are going to be hardliners, while the Czech strategy is different - we come to the table with the idea that while we don't like the proposal, we can talk about it. We shall see how this strategy will work in practice."