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Progress' made at EU enlargement talks: Blair

PM: 'Great deal of progress' made at EU enlargement talks

The Prime Minister has briefed MPs on last week's European Council discussions over the draft constitutional treaty. Mr Blair began his statement to Parliament by updating the house on the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Mr Blair said that the celebrations seen all over Iraq show once and for all how delighted the Iraqi people are that Saddam's rule is now over.

He paid tribute to the American and Iraqi forces that helped bring about the capture of the former Iraqi dictator.

"But, as we have seen yet again today, the terrorists and Saddam's sympathisers will continue and, though small in number and in support, their terrorist tactics will still require vigilance, dedication and determination."

European enlargement

The Prime Minister said that negotiation among all 25 states was always going to be difficult.

Although nothing was agreed at the conference in formal terms, there were 82 points where consensus was achieved.

"These included key changes on very important issues for the United Kingdom," he said.

"If this proceeds on the basis outlined by Prime Minister Berlusconi, tax, EU finance, social security and criminal law will all remain the province of the nation-state."

He said it would be a 'serious mistake' to allow any British Government to remove itself from the negotiations.

"We must continue to shape the future of Europe in ways that reflect our national interest. We can either be on the touchline shouting our criticism, or on the field as an active and successful player."

Mr Blair also highlighted a joint letter with several other European leaders to the President of the European Commission emphasising the need for budgetary discipline in preparations for the new EU-budget.

Joint letter emphasises need for EU budget discipline

Prime Minister Tony Blair and several other European leaders have written a joint letter to the President of the European Commission emphasising the need for budgetary discipline in preparations for the new EU budget.

Mr Blair was updating MPs on the Inter-Governmental Conference in Brussels - read the statement in full.

Read the joint letter (15 December) from Mr Blair and the President of France, the Chancellors of Germany and Austria, and the Prime Ministers of the Netherlands and Sweden below.

H.E. Prof. Romano Prodi
President of the European Commission

The period for the current Financial Perspective is drawing to a close and preparations for the new EU budget are under way. We understand that you are currently preparing a Communication to the Council, and intend to submit a legislative proposal no later than during the first half of 2004. This will pave the way for the necessary deliberations between Member States.

The new Financial Perspective should allow us to exploit the extraordinary potential of the enlarged Union, and the opportunities it offers our citizens. EU spending should add real value, and aim more actively at transforming the EU into the most competitive and innovative area worldwide. Other key tasks are further developing the Common Foreign and Security Policy, protecting our external borders, and managing migration flows.

We are deeply committed to the principle of European solidarity, and to the maintenance of cohesion in the enlarged Union.

Bearing in mind Europe's demographic challenge, sustained high growth requires long term sound public finances. In view of the painful consolidation efforts in Member States our citizens will not understand if the EU budget were exempt from this consolidation process.

We see in this context no room for a EU budget near the current ceiling for own resources. Average expenditure during the next financial perspective should in our view be stabilised around current expenditure levels, and should not exceed 1.0 % of GNI, including agriculture spending within the ceiling set by the European Council in October 2002. This would still allow for annual increases in the EU budget well above growth rates of national budgets in most Member States, and permit a sufficient margin for policy implementation in the enlarged Union.

The Commission's proposal on the new Financial Perspective should reflect this approach.

Jacques Chirac
President of the French Republic

Gerhard Schröder
Federal Chancellor of the FederalRepublic ofGermany

Jan Peter Balkenende
Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Göran Persson
Prime Minister of Sweden

Tony Blair
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Wolfgang Schüssel
Federal Chancellor of the Republic of Austria

© Scoop Media

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