The UK has drawn criticism for its performance at the helm of the EU, with French ex-president Valery Giscard d’Estaing suggesting it has achieved "very little", and the EU budget commissioner questioning slow progress towards a deal on the bloc’s future spending.

A debate has sparked in the British media over the last week about the state of London's EU presidency. The papers have been quoting EU diplomats' complaints about the lack of leadership in the presidency, while journalists criticised technical problems at events organised in the country.

Mr Giscard also waded in.

"The chairmanship of the union is now British", he told BBC Radio on Thursday 22 September. "We are at the end of September. What was the contribution of the British presidency up to now? Practically very little."

However, he blamed the "system" rather than Tony Blair.

"When you have a rotating presidency every six months nothing happens", argued Mr Giscard, who headed the convention that drew up the EU constitution. One of the changes the constitution introduces is a more permanent chair of the bloc.

Mr Giscard also conceded that the UK government was "absorbed" by the July terrorist attacks in London.

The British government has also been under fire for its weak role in the debate about the future of Europe, following the rejection of the constitutional treaty in France and the Netherlands.

On top of this, pressure for a deal on future EU spending is mounting from both Brussels and the new member states.

EU budget commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite has questioned Downing Street’s decision not to add a budgetary debate on the list of topics for an informal summit in October at London’s Hampton Court Palace.

"How can you talk about the future of Europe without the future of finances for Europe?" she told journalists on Thursday.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was one of the key opponents of the 2007-2013 financial agreement proposed by the previous Luxembourg presidency at a summit of EU leaders in June.

Mr Blair launched the British chairmanship with a call for a complex overhaul of the union’s spending.

But although UK officials are currently debating the issue with their European counterparts in bilateral meetings, the draft budget proposal is only expected to see the light of day in November.

British diplomats argue the criticism of their performance is "ridiculous", according to UK media. They point out the presidency was interrupted by the August break in Brussels in the first place, with the German elections also causing a slow down in their work. And, they suggest, London has played a major role in securing the launch of Turkey’s entry talks on 3 October.

On 1 January 2006 the presidency will pass to Austria.

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