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By Ray Fleming IN the midst of the accusations and counter-accusations currently swirling round the conference rooms and corridors in Brussels, one rather important point is being overlooked. The deadline for the approval of the 2007-2013 European Union budget is not today or tomorrow; it could be held over until next year without causing any serious problem. Why then is the impresssion being given that the most important item on the agenda for today and tomorrow is the budget? The answer is simple; in two week's time Britain will take over the revolving presidency of the EU and will therefore be in a position to set the agenda for the next six months. Mr Blair's priority, about which he has made no secret, is to push through reforms to make the EU a more open and effective economic union, able to compete on equal terms with the United States. This initiative was launched at the Lisbon summit almost four years ago but has stalled, partly because of the downturn in the global economy and partly because of the reluctance of France to accept changes which would affect its cherished “social model” of protected industries and high-cost public services. It must therefore always have been France's priority to do what it could to blunt the effectiveness of Britain's presidency by diverting attention to other issues. The most convenient way of doing this became the British “rebate” negotiated by Margaret Thatcher twenty years ago. No other country gets such a rebate and Britain is now the most prosperous nation in the EU. The amount involved is tiny in relation to the whole EU budget but the rebate' existence is tactically disadvantageous to Britain. Mr Blair's task, therefore, is to counter France's rebate offensive by drawing attention to the much larger “rebate” represented by the Common Agricultural Policy, of which France is by far the largest recipient, and to continue to insist that one cannot be reformed without the other while showing every readiness to discuss such reform. Until then, however, next business please.