Monday, June 13, 2005

The Spanish President has asked the leader of the Opposition to try to beat some 'common sense' into the Galician President, Manuel Fraga. Fat chance. He may be 82 and a dinosaur from the Franco era but the people up in the hills of Galicia love him. They can’t get enough of the insults he sprays in all directions, especially when they’re in the local language. He’s been doing this for decades and, as one commentator noted today, the only thing new about his 2005 campaigning style is that he’s a lot quicker with the post-facto apologies than he used to be.

The UK Sunday Telegraph suggested yesterday that all the European media had fallen for President Chirac’s blatant [and successful] attempt to distract attention from the impact on the EU of the French No by making the British rebate the centrepiece of the imminent summit. This is rather unfair to Spain. Since the quality press here devotes far more space to serious issues than in Britain, they usually present both sides of a case. They have certainly reported the British view that, although the original logic for the rebate remains in place, there’s a case for reviewing it in the context of wider-ranging reform of the EU’s finances. I rather get the impression that no one here is in much doubt that this spat is a proxy for the real battle between France and Britain for the economic soul of the EU over the next decade or two.

Meanwhile, the French Foreign Minister has said that the British stance ‘defies logic’. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone with any experience of Gallic logic but I suppose she might be right, if by ‘French logic’ she means that the EU always has been and should remain a vehicle for subsidising a high quality of life in France via transfers from Germany, the UK and Holland. Under this version of logic, the UK has paid 2.5 times more than France into the EU coffers over the last 20 years and would have paid 7 times more without the annual rebate. One can see why it has a certain appeal for the French.

As for Spanish logic - this is that the UK rebate ‘costs’ them 700m euros a year. What this means is that they get 700m less than they believe they deserve, not that they actually pay 700m more into the central coffers. Or, indeed, anything. Different from French logic but just as appealing.

Very subjective, this logic thing.

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