The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has said he is not seeking to scrap EU farm subsidies overnight but to reduce them gradually.

In a speech to the European Parliament in Brussels this morning, Mr Blair said the EU urgently needed economic reform to rekindle growth and must gradually reduce the share of its budget spent on farm subsidies.

He said that the European Union will recover its strength only by change.

Mr Blair's keynote speech follows last week's failure by EU leaders to agree an EU budget.

It also comes ahead of Britain's six-month presidency of the union which begins tomorrow week.

Describing himself as a passionate pro-European, Mr Blair called for an open and frank exchange of ideas on the debate over the future of Europe, rather than 'trading insults'.

The prime minister said he backs a modern, social Europe and added that those who have claimed that Britain was pushing for the EU to become simply an economic free trade zone were misrepresenting the position.