Leading article: A fudge is better than nothing


The Prime Minister is practised at dressing up pragmatic compromise in the garb of principle. But not even he could quite finesse the hugely complex product of 25-sided haggling yesterday as a coherent European Union budget for the future. Once upon a time he said that he would not give up the British rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in 1984. Then he said he would not give it up until the French gave up the farm subsidies that made it necessary. In the end, though, he gave up part of it in return for nothing more substantial than agreement to "review" the subsidy regime in two years' time - a review over the outcome of which the French would have the right of veto.

As it happens, the agreement that was reached in Brussels was a perfectly sensible compromise, every element of which Tony Blair can and does justify. It would have been manifestly unfair to ask the 10 new member countries, all of them poorer than Britain, to contribute to the British rebate - even though by the terms of their accession they had implicitly agreed to do so. Despite that concession, the British rebate will continue to grow in value and can be said to have been preserved. Important, if woefully inadequate, reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) were agreed three years ago and there was no prospect of securing the necessary unanimous support for further reforms before 2008. The alternative to the deal agreed in the middle of the night on Friday was, therefore, no deal rather than the ideal. And no deal, as Mr Blair rightly says, would have been bad for Britain, alienating the new EU members and offending the new Chancellor of Germany. Indeed, Angela Merkel's emergence as an independent honest broker rather than half of a Franco-German stitch-up may have been the most significant outcome of last week's summit.

What Mr Blair did not say, because it might have been undiplomatic, was that failure to agree a deal would have fatally disabled the next push for CAP reform. Jacques Chirac can no longer deflect awkward questions about why French farmers should be subsidised to keep Africans poor by claiming that the British are being intransigent about the rebate. Without last week's deal, the rebate would have become difficult to defend, as Cyprus became a bigger net contributor per head to the EU than Britain.

As it is, France is now in danger of becoming isolated as the defender of the most indefensible feature of EU financing, namely the snail-like pace with which it is prepared to abandon the subsidies that distort world trade and oppress the world's poor. That - along with Mrs Merkel's detachment from the Franco-German alliance that has for too long dominated the EU - offers hope for the future. Mr Blair has just managed to keep the show on the road during the British presidency, although the trial of Orhan Pamuk casts a shadow over the start of Turkey's accession negotiations. Mr Blair will not see real reform in his time. He may have to settle for being one of those who helped to make it possible.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power