EU ministers challenge Britain’s victory claim on bill

By Danny Kemp, AFP

BRUSSELS–Britain declared victory after the EU agreed Friday to extend a deadline for a huge 2.1-billion-euro bill, but walked straight into a new row as other countries rejected its claims to have reduced the amount. Prime Minister David Cameron had refused to pay the top-up , warning that it could push Britain toward the EU exit in a referendum that he has promised to hold in 2017, so long as he wins in a general election next May. After tense talks in Brussels, Finance Minister George Osborne said the bill had been ��halved,�� and that instead of a Dec. 1 cut-off, Britain would now pay the rest in two installments before September 2015. But other European ministers insisted Britain would still have to pay the full sum, while Cameron’s euroskeptic political opponents accused him of using ��smoke and mirrors�� to hide the truth. The bill infuriated Cameron after he said he was ambushed with it at a European summit in October, and he quickly used Friday’s deal to defend himself against growing pressure from the euroskeptic UK Independence Party. ‘He didn’t get a discount’

The original bill was based on a recalculation of EU nations’ budgets dating back more than a decade, and Cameron had refused to pay either the full amount or meet the December deadline. Osborne said Britain would only pay half the original bill, giving Brussels a total of 850 million pounds in two installments in July and September next year. The rest would be offset against a full upfront payment of the 3-billion-pound annual rebate negotiated by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, he said. But other EU ministers challenged the British claims. ��My understanding is that the UK will have to pay the whole amount,�� Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan said. Asked about Osborne’s figure, he said: ��I don’t know what the basis of that calculation is.��

The Netherlands’ finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem �X whose own country faces a 642-million-euro bill from the EU �X also disputed Osborne’s claims. German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said when asked if the ministers had agreed to reduce Britain’s payment: ��We did not talk about that.�� But Britain received some backing from EU budget commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, who said Osborne’s claim was ��factually correct�� and that the two installments would together total about one billion euros.