15 December 2004

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EU ends deficit procedures against France, Germany

The European Union executive yesterday removed France and Germany from a list of countries in breach of an EU deficit limit but warned it would remain vigilant over their national finances.
EU economic affairs commissioner Joaquin Almunia said that in light of efforts by the two countries to reduce their deficits, and a court ruling upholding Brussels' right to police their finances, "it would appear that no further steps are required at this point".
But he added in a statement: "The budgetary situation remains vulnerable in the two countries.
"Should the corrective measures fail, the commission would have to recommend to the Council to enhance budgetary surveillance," the Spanish commissioner said.
France and Germany are on course to breach the public deficit ceiling laid down in the EU's Stability and Growth Pact - three per cent of gross domestic product - for a third year running this year.
But the eurozone's two biggest economies left the pact in tatters in November 2003 by persuading their EU partners to put the threat of financial punishment against deficit miscreants on hold.
In a ruling in July, the European Court of Justice said that EU countries had no right to put the pact "in abeyance", confirming the European Commission 's right to launch "excessive deficit procedures" in the first place.
In its statement, the EU executive said the timelag created by the wait for the court judgement meant that 2005 should be viewed as the correct target for France and Germany to get their deficits under the three per cent limit.
"The commission concludes that the two countries appear to be on track to correct their excessive deficits by 2005," it said.
Brussels said the German deficit was projected to fall to 2.9 per cent of GDP in 2005, from a forecast 3.9 per cent this year.
For France, the deficit would go down to exactly three per cent from an expected 3.7 per cent in 2004, it said.
The deficit predictions are based on commission forecasts for GDP growth in Germany next year of 1.5 per cent and in France of 2.2 per cent.
But many economists doubt that the French and German public deficits will indeed fall below three per cent in 2005 given weaker-than-expected economic growth.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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