EU finance ministers have agreed to hold a marathon series of meetings to forge agreements on how to police debt and rescue failing economies, as many proposals still face terse opposition from the EU’s national governments.
In spite of “heated” and “intense” discussions yesterday (15 February), a senior EU diplomat said that the so-called ‘comprehensive package’ – new proposals to police debt, up competitiveness and boost rescue efforts – was still “a building site.”
Centre-right leaders from 14 eurozone countries will meet in Finland on 4 March to iron out their differences over the package, in preparation for a summit in Brussels with eurozone leaders on 11 March.
One question which has proved controversial in previous talks was where to send the proceeds of fines from economic sanctions. The options on the table right now are to inject money from fines into the new rescue facility (European Financial Stability Facility; EFSF) or to redistribute the money among EU countries.
Yesterday, member states were still divided on which option to go for. Slovakia suggested that the money sent to the facility could reduce member states’ annual contributions to the EU budget.
According to a document seen by EurActiv, three member states would still rather see the money go back into their pockets. Estonia is one of those countries.
EU governments are also trying to upgrade how they collect statistics after Greece was found out for tampering with its national debt figures.
The Spanish finance minister, Elena Salgado, asked EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn if he could live with receiving data from states, such as Catalonia, every three months instead of every month.
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Salgado said Spain could not provide state governmental expenses on a monthly basis. EU diplomats at the talks say Rehn stood his ground and insisted that Spain had until 2013 to adapt to the new conditions.
British opt-out on the horizon
Britain, a non-eurozone country which has been on the sidelines for the majority of the talks, has once again sought a guarantee on fiscal sovereignty, this time on a proposal to harmonise national budget-making.
A proposal on national budgetary frameworks includes new rules on public accounting systems, statistics, forecasting practices and many other stages in the budgetary process.
UK opposition is so fervent that the UK ambassador is currently in talks with Commissioner Rehn to guarantee an opt-out from the proposed directive on budgetary frameworks.
And to add to recent opposition on a German-Franco pact to harmonise salary indexation, tax, social security and pension systems, among others, Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg reportedly came out in force against all of the above, insisting these were matters of national sovereignty.
Finland will host a meeting of 14 European Union leaders, including Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, on 4 March, to help prepare the comprehensive response to the eurozone debt crisis.
“I will host in Helsinki a special meeting of European People’s Party prime ministers, which will focus on the preparation of the crucial eurozone summit of 11 March,” Finland’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, Jyrki Katainen, said in a statement.
The 11 March talks in Brussels are supposed to pave the way for an agreement on 24-25 March on a package to boost the euro zone’s current rescue fund – as well as making it permanent from 2013 onwards – and on reforms to boost competitiveness.