24th Aug 2019

Fury and recrimination over euro rules

As more details emerged about the deal struck to save France and Germany from potential European Commission fines, ministers, commissioners, MEPs and spokespeople tooks swipes at each other today, both in public and behind the scenes.

Early this morning, finance ministers from the euro zone - the 12 countries that share the euro - voted to halt European Commission proceedings against France and Germany that could potentially lead to fines of billions of euro.

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But this has caused uproar in the Commission and certain Member States - notably the Netherlands and Austria.

The bad blood from last night's gruelling talks spilled over into Tuesday's meeting of Finance Ministers as diplomats and ministers briefed against each other both in public and on the fringes.

Austria's Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser said that France and Germany must now live up to their political responsibilities in terms of EU leadership.

In a terse statement, the European Commission repeated that it "deeply regrets" the developments.

On the other side of the increasingly bitter debate, German Finance Minister Hans Eichel described the decision in public as a "very reasonable one".

In private, though, German sources said that their delegation was "sick and tired" of being accused of placing the euro rules in danger, claiming that their behaviour was in line with the pact.

Implications for the Constitution

Some Finance Ministers were concerned about the wider implications of the public disagreements, seeing dangers for the future European Constitution.

Belgian Finance Minister Didier Reynders told RTBF radio, "it will be rather difficult after all to explain that we absolutely want to respect the rules of this new treaty at the same time as we are seeking blocking minorities to avoid applying the current treaty".

Parliament weighs in

MEPs were unable to stay out of the action today.

Othmar Karas MEP, the economics spokesman for the largest political party in the European Parliament, the European People's Party (EPP-ED), said that last night's decision was a "catastrophic and scandalous result".

"It contradicts the rules and the spirit of the Stability and Growth Pact, it damages the credibility of the European Union".

"Not a single bit of this decision is worthy of any welcoming", concluded Mr Karas.

ECB in the mix

Rumours were flying around late this afternoon that the European Central Bank (ECB) would make a statement regarding the crisis.

The ECB have previously been very firm in their belief that the rules should be applied very strictly and are likely to be heavily critical of the Finance Ministers' decisions.

But a spokesman for the bank told the EUobserver that he could not confirm whether such a statement would be made.

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