Tony Blair misses valuable chance to reform European Union's budget

Prime Minister Tony Blair has missed a valuable chance to reform the European Union's budget, opposition Conservative Party leader Michael Howard charged Friday. News reports suggested Blair was preparing to give up a slice of Britain's lucrative rebate to break a stalemate over the EU budget. He had vowed earlier this year not to accept a reduction unless the bloc's generous agricultural subsidies were overhauled.

"We are not going to get fundamental reform of the EU budget in the last days that remain of the British presidency," Howard told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. "We could have had it, but we squandered a tremendous opportunity."

Blair's office did not immediately return a call for comment. The prime minister is in Budapest, Hungary, meeting with the leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in hopes of winning their support for Britain's budget proposals.

Blair said Thursday he thought it would be difficult to find a compromise on the standoff over the rebate and farm subsidies. Instead, he suggested a "a smaller overall budget level." News reports suggested that would mean cuts to the rebate and the funds available to the bloc's new member nations, which are mostly poorer than the longer-standing members, reports the AP. I.L.

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