Conservatives lead condemnation of EU Presidency in the European Parliament
The President-in-Office (Mr Alexander) has a difficult task today. He has been sent to try to convince this House that the Presidency is on top of events. Sadly, the history of the past six months shows that this Presidency has been singularly unable to even comprehend events. He is the messenger for a Presidency that has run out of ideas, run out of steam and is rapidly running out of time. I sympathise with the unpleasant task he has today!
It is widely acknowledged across the political spectrum that the British Presidency has been a weak one. It began with high hopes and Prime Ministerial panache in this chamber. It asked to be judged on its record over the six months it was in office. In June, I warned that there was usually a yawning gap between Prime Minister Blair's rhetoric and the reality. Anyone who has watched the Prime Minister preside over this 'do nothing' Presidency will now understand my initial caution.
I will not today talk about the overall record of this Presidency. Rather, I want to concentrate on Mr Blair's increasingly frantic attempts to get an agreement on the financial perspectives and the future budget of the EU. In the past few weeks, the Prime Minister has left us breathless with his efforts at diplomacy.
His actions have only been successful in securing both the opprobrium of the states of Central and Eastern Europe who thought Mr Blair was their friend, while gaining not a hint of compromise on CAP reform from the French Government. In addition, and crucially, he has reneged on his promise to the British people not to undermine the British budget rebate. In June, Mr Blair said that the rebate would remain "period". He is now trying to negotiate it away without any promises on the fundamental reform of the CAP he said were vital. He should not be surprised if the public reaction in Britain to any possible budget deal is hostile. He will have misled them and they will see it live on their television screens. They will be paying more because the Prime Minister has let them down and the country down - and badly.
I also read this weekend - and the President-in-Office might care to comment on this - that the British Treasury has not budgeted for a reduction in the budget rebate - meaning that British taxpayers could end up paying higher taxes. The Treasury confirmed at the weekend that the Chancellor's Pre-Budget Report does not take into account any reduction. The explanation for this can perhaps be found in what the Chancellor, Mr Brown, said earlier this year. He said that the rebate was "fully justified" and not up for renegotiation.
At the heart of this vital issue is a Prime Minister who is weak - and a government that is deeply divided. Our European partners are witnessing a Presidency that is seemingly incapable of taking decisions on the future of Europe because it is internally unable to agree a policy.
We will look closely at the latest budget proposals expected from the Presidency today. I deprecate the fact that Parliament has not been given the details today. We will judge them, in part, on how much British taxpayers can expect to pay for the mishandling of the issue by their Government - and on whether there is any evidence that the Prime Minister has received any solid and bankable commitments on fundamental reform of the CAP. So far, the omens are not good.