Source Pravda.Ru

French president doubts Blair's abilities

President Jacques Chirac expressed doubt on Britain's plan to resolve the crisis over the European Union budget, saying Tony Blair was "isolated" in Europe.

In private, Mr Chirac is scathing about Mr Blair's ability to pull off a deal, citing the Prime Minister's tensions with Gordon Brown.

The French president has been telling visitors that unless the "Blair-Brown problem" is resolved, he holds out little hope of a deal at a summit of EU leaders next month.

In an attempt to break the deadlock over the next EU budget, the Prime Minister is proposing to slash nearly Ј17 billion from an earlier budget proposal that failed to find agreement in June. The British plan represents a cut of Ј120 billion from an initial spending plan put forward by the European Commission.

Most of the pain will be felt by the 10 newest members of the EU, mostly ex-Communist states, because the budget preserves both agricultural subsidies championed by France and the multi-billion pound annual British rebate. But as Mr Blair prepared to fly to eastern Europe this week to sell his scaled-down budget as being in the "true interest" of the new member states, Mr Chirac poured cold water on the chances of a deal by Britain, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU until the end of the year.

Speaking a few rooms from where Mr Blair was giving the closing press conference at a summit of European and Mediterranean countries in Barcelona, Mr Chirac said: "The United Kingdom has a very difficult mission. It is relatively isolated on the financial perspective."

Mr Blair tried to sell his proposal on the margins of the Euromed summit, and he will try to win over seven eastern leaders during a whistlestop trip to Estonia and Hungary.

Mr Chirac's scathing analysis of the Prime Minister's political weakness may not be shared by every EU leader. But other EU governments argue that Mr Blair's ability to manage domestic public opinion and the House of Commons may be the key to securing a new EU budget, The Daily Telegraph reports.

V.Y.

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