to progress being made in talks between European ministers, Margaret
Beckett, UK president of the board of trade said.
Chairing an informal meeting of European regional policy ministers in
Funds, part of the wider Agenda 2000 budget reform package, she said:
'Good progress has been made during the UK presidency on improving
the system of European regional funding. We are looking to cut the
red tape wherever we can. This will free up resources and offer
potential benefits to local people across Europe. It is a natural
step to wider reform. We are also seeking a system better equipped to
tackle our priorities of job creation, competitiveness and long-term
'In our discussions with the commission and other member states, we
want to make sure the reforms lead to decisions on regional funding
being taken as close to the people as possible. Strong regional and
local partnerships are essential to the Structural Funds and they
must play a full part in deciding how best to target the money to
meet local needs.
'This is the first chance regional policy ministers have had to
discuss the commission's proposals face to face. We have already made
some progress, but are only at the start of a long negotiation.
'European enlargement is vital for Europe, for Britain - and for
business. We accept that all member states must be committed to
achieving enlargement at an affordable price. However it is important
that this should be on a basis that is fair to all EU countries,
including the UK.
'Affordability and fairness will be the UK's touchstones as the talks
increasingly concentrate on the eligibility criteria. There remains
much work to be done to secure the right outcome.
'The importance of getting these reforms right can not be stressed
too highly. Regional funding represents one of the most visible
benefits of the Union to British people. We will continue to push for
reform that is affordable, effective and above all fair.'