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Europe

Quo Vadis, Europe?

The failure to agree on a budget has exposed differences over the EU's future. Britain, which has been blamed for the crisis, cannot force its path on others, said Austria's Schüssel, who inherits the presidency in 2006.

Which way will the wind blow?

Following the collapse of the European Union summit over a bitter budget dispute, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel took British Prime Minister Tony Blair to task for putting national interests above those of the 25-member bloc. Britain, which insisted on retaining its five-billion euro rebate despite opposition from the other 24 member states, has been widely criticized for torpedoing the 2007-2013 budget compromise.

Speaking in an interview with Germany's public broadcaster ARD, Schüssel acknowledged that Britain was not the only country to veto the proposed budget. But Blair's stubborn refusal to yield on the issue of Britain's paybacks unless changes were made to extensive – and in his opinion overly inflated – agricultural subsidies has set a negative precedent for future negotiations in which each member state thinks only of itself. Schüssel, whose country takes over the rotating EU presidency on Jan. 1, 2006, following Britain's stint during the second half of 2005, warned that London cannot continue to "force its path on others." Otherwise, there is a real danger that each member state will only fight for itself, and the concept of a united Europe will be left on the wayside.

"It's certainly the question of the concept. The British want a different Europe. They want more a market-oriented Europe, a large market, but no deeper union," Schüssel told ARD.

A Europe for the common good

Schüssel said he believed German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was right to say that an economic EU model, such as the one Britain envisioned, would mean countries would not act for the common good.

Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel has made EU policy a key issue in his administration

"Whoever wants such a model leaves behind the European social and economic model, which has served us well, which the citizens want and which has made us strong," Schüssel said.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin echoed the call to more unity in plotting out Europe's future course. Speaking at the Paris air show on Sunday, Villepin called on all EU members to work towards common strategic goals. Now more than ever it is important that Europe pursues a "common vision" to help it overcome "one of the deepest crises in its history," he said, pointing to cooperation in the aviation branch as one of the bloc's key economic successes.

Updating Europe

While France and Germany in particular, are pointing fingers at the British boogeyman, British government officials are putting a more positive spin on the budget meltdown. The summit fiasco actually creates an opportunity for Blair to lead Europe in a different, more "modern," economically liberal direction when he takes over the presidency on July 1.

They relish the sharpening ideological clash between their free-market philosophy and what they see as an outdated Franco-German model of social and rural protection.

"It's essentially a division between whether you want an EU that is able to cope with the future or whether you want an EU that is trapped in the past," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said. "It is not one that Europe can dodge."

More than a mountain of money?

But Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka, who led a praiseworthy but unsuccessful initiative from the ten newcomer states to sacrifice some of their financial demands for the sake of an amicable budget resolution, said Sunday that it was important to show that Europe is "more than a mountain of money."

Despite the bickering over the budget and the breakdown in talks, EU leaders must demonstrate that the European Union is more than a common market, Belka stressed.

But on the eve of Britain's stint at the EU presidency, exciting EU Council President and Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker prophesized a bleak future for Europe: "I fear a long, creeping almost imperceptible weakening ... a disparate and blurred future that cannot be described."

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