14th May 2021

MEPs accuse Moscovici of giving France special treatment

  • Moscovici (l) says sanctions represent a failure to convince deficit sinners to reform (Photo: Council of European Union)

EU economics commissioner Pierre Moscovici on Tuesday (2 December) was showered with criticism in the European Parliament after granting France three extra months to fix its budget.

Moscovici said France received three extra months because the EU commission did not have all the necessary information.

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While he insisted that the commission was not being "complacent or lenient" he also let it be known that other countries did file all the data in time.

"Thank you for clarifying that 'some animals are more equal than others'," Dutch centre-right MEP Esther de Lange told Moscovici quoting from George Orwell's novel Animal Farm.

"It is clear that there is a very different treatment for small member states - take Ireland - compared to France. This is very disconcerting," de Lange said.

Moscovici disagreed and said he would not hesitate in to using "all tools" - including sanctions - in March.

"I am fully committed to the reduction of deficit. Deficit and debt are the enemies of the economy. I know this is a matter of credibility, for the Stability Pact, for the EU commission, for commissioners, for myself," he said.

But he added that sanctions represent a "failure" of the EU commission in working together with governments and persuading them of the need to implement reforms.

MEPs in the economics committee gave him a hard time because France has been in the excessive deficit procedure since 2009 - including the years when Moscovici was acting as French minister of finance (2012-2014).

French Liberal MEP Sylvie Goulard asked what was the legal basis for delaying a decision to penalise France for not living up to its commitments under the excessive deficit procedure.

"You are transforming the commission into a United Nations body, soon with the same weak authority," Goulard said.

Moscovici argued that the previous commissioner, Finnish hawk Jyrki Katainen who is now in charge of investments and competitiveness, did not engage enough in "dialogue" with the French government about the possibility of sanctions.

He said the three extra months are fully compatible with the "flexibility" of the EU rules on deficit and debt.

But one of the veterans in the European Parliament, centre-right MEP Alain Lamassoure who wrote parts of the Lisbon Treaty, said history is repeating itself when it comes to big member states bending the rules.

"The Maastricht criteria [deficit and debt rules] failed spectacularly because France and Germany were not penalised. I fear the same political obstacle remains to date. I fear we have countries like Italy and France that are considered 'too big to fail'," Lamassoure said.

The only support during the debate came from Moscovici's own political family, the Socialists. Italian centre-left MEP Roberto Gualtieri, who chairs the economics committee, praised the new working method of the EU commission and the fact that Moscovici appeared in parliament to discuss it.

France gets three months to tweak budget

The EU commission on Friday said "political" factors merit giving France more time to work on its budget deficit. It urged Germany to spend more to revive eurozone growth.

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