Britain currently holds the EC presidency, and chairs the budget council and the consumer affairs council. Wendy Toms, of the National Consumer Council, said: 'The Government is in an influential position and we are sure that it will want to support a fair deal for consumers.'
But government sources say the planned spending is adequate. They also say that consumer interests can best be defended by member states - another application of the principle of subsidiarity.
EC budget ministers met last week in Brussels to consider next year's spending. They cut total planned expenditure by less than 1 per cent, but the budget for consumer affairs was reduced by 50 per cent. This takes it well below current levels in the year when the creation of the Community's single market is intended to revolutionise European business, with important implications for consumers.
The European Commission had proposed spending 16 million ecus ( pounds 11.5m) on consumer affairs, a slight reduction on 1992. But budget ministers, under the chairmanship of Sir John Cope, the UK Paymaster General, cut it down to 8 million ecus. Spending on consumer protection measures and consumer redress was eliminated.
Consumers in the European Community Group, an umbrella association representing interests such as the Consumers' Association and the National Consumers' Council, wrote to Baroness Denton last week complaining about the cuts. 'For the Council to halve the proposed EC consumer budget with the UK in the chair would be an extremely unfortunate beginning to your presidency of the Consumer Affairs Council of Ministers,' the group said.
Amongst other activities, the budget funds consumer representation. 'We can't affect EC standards unless we get representation in Brussels,' a Consumers' Association spokeswoman said.