Geoff Hoon - everyone has to compromise for EU budget deal to work

Geoff Hoon

One of the most senior members of the British government, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons Geoff Hoon, is in Prague at the moment at the invitation of Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and the ruling Social Democrats. Mr Hoon, former UK Defence Secretary, has been speaking to the party about how they can learn from the experiences of the British Labour Party, which has undergone great change in recent years. But his visit also comes at a time when the British Prime Minister Tony Blair tries to persuade new EU members to accept a deal on the EU's budget.

"We have a very strong political relationship between the parties, but also government to government. So I think it's very important that the United Kingdom continues to work closely with our friends and partners in places like the Czech Republic."

Prime Minister Tony Blair is currently in very difficult talks with leaders of countries in this region over the EU's budget. Do you think he will be able to clinch a deal over the next few days?

"It's important that I emphasise the government is keen to see a resolution of the EU budget. It's obviously a difficult issue, it affects different countries in different ways, and crucially we have to get the agreement of every member state of the European Union. Obviously following enlargement, that is a more difficult task than it has ever been, but we're working hard to achieve that and obviously the prime minister is working particularly hard, travelling across Europe, seeing his counterparts, and establishing the basis of a deal."

That deal would though involve poorer EU countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland etc getting less. Why should poorer countries get less from the EU?

Prime Minister Tony Blair, photo: CTK
"That's not strictly true. What it actually means, if you'll forgive me, is those countries getting more, getting more than they've had in the past. Obviously it will be important in relation to achieving a deal, that every country comes back a little off their ideal negotiating position, but perhaps that is the basis of a proper conclusion, where everybody comes off slightly dissatisfied, but nevertheless recognises that that is in the greater interest of the European Union and indeed crucially of the Czech Republic to get a deal."

Going back into history, Britain famously betrayed Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938, and there is still a lot of residual resentment, especially when you speak to older Czechs here. Do you think British foreign policy towards the Czech Republic today is driven by a sense of historical guilt over what happened sixty years ago?

"I don't believe so, because after those events of course we then did take the right decision, following the invasion of Poland. My father volunteered to serve in the Royal Air Force as a result of what happened there and many millions of British citizens working closely with people from what was then Czechoslovakia and now the Czech Republic served side by side, not least in the Royal Air Force. So it was something that I think was quickly overcome, in the recognition that we all work together to defeat a totalitarian and terrible regime."