Juncker wants more eurozone activism
Re-elected as president of the 16-member bloc of EU states that use the euro currency, Luxembourg's prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, spelled out his vision for the group at a meeting of finance ministers on Monday evening (18 January).
Previously an informal configuration, the EU's new rulebook - the Lisbon Treaty - gives legal status to the group of euro area finance ministers, setting it the goal of "ever closer co-ordination of economic policies within the euro area".
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"The scope for its activities is much broader," Mr Juncker told journalists at a news conference after the meeting, adding that finance minister had approved his "outline programme of our future work".
Mandated to lead the group for another 2.5 years, the inveterate European politician said members should focus on co-ordinating spending, work to bring their economies closer together and push for a stronger voice internationally.
"It's not a question of adding bureaucratic layers, but of adding value to our economy," said Mr Juncker.
As part of an "enhanced" co-ordination of member states' economic policy, efforts will be made to reduce the huge imbalances in economic productivity within the group, while perspective members will be subject to more rigorous testing to make sure their economies are up to scratch.
Mr Juncker also said the European Commission was set to formally propose that the eurogroup become a member of the Group of 20 major economies and that a small secretariat of "four to five" civil servants would be set up in the Council of Ministers building in Brussels to prepare the currency club's monthly meetings.
The Luxembourgish politician's ability to push the agenda forward will depend on member-state support however, with Franco-Spanish enthusiasm for greater economic co-ordination tempered by German concerns it could lead to an erosion of independence of the European Central Bank.
Greece was also very much on the agenda of the 16 finance ministers' meeting, after the country presented the commission with a new plan on Friday, outlining how it will cut its budget deficit from the 12.7 percent of GDP recorded in 2009 to under 3 percent by 2012.
Particular criticism has been directed at the southeastern country's repeated tendency to provide the European statistics office - Eurostat - with inaccurate data.
Also present at Monday's meeting, EU economy commissioner Joaquin Almunia said the European executive body would propose a plan in February to "try to find solutions to the negative aspects and failures of the statistics system in Greece."
The action plan, to be followed up with close monitoring, is a further significant step towards a direct EU say on the running of economic policy in a eurozone member state.