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Brussels, 3 March 2008
Preparation of Eurogroup and Economic and Finance Ministers Council, Brussels, 3 and 4 March 2008 (Amelia Torres, Oliver Drewes, Maria Assimakopoulou, Cristina Arigho)
Eurogroup ministers will meet at 17:00 hrs on Monday 3 March. Joaquín Almunia, Commissioner responsible for Economic and Monetary Affairs will attend as will European Central Bank Governor Jean-Claude Trichet. A press conference is expected to take place after the meeting.
The meeting is expected to start with a presentation by Commissioner Almunia of the Commission interim economic forecasts published on 21 February (see IP/08/274). The euro-area economy is expected to remain fairly resilient in the face of the numerous and sizeable headwinds (US slowdown, financial market turbulence, high commodity prices), with GDP growth forecast to be 1.8% in 2008.The projection for HICP inflation, on the other hand, was revised up to 2.6% for 2008. The forecasts noted that in the absence of further shocks to food and energy prices, inflation is expected to return to more normal levels in the last quarter of 2008, although the increase noted in inflation expectations is a source of concern in this respect. For latest data and surveys see Key Indicators for the Euro Area:
The Eurogroup will also hear about the Commission's assessment of the eight Stability Programmes on the agenda of the Ecofin meeting the next day. The eight updated programmes concern Austria, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Malta, Slovenia, Spain and Portugal (see reference press releases below).
Eurogroup ministers are also expected to discuss financial stability issues and to examine and endorse the text of the euro area fiche of the country-specific recommendations of the Integrated Guidelines for growth and jobs.
The Council of Economics and Finance Ministers will start at 10.00 hrs on Tuesday 4 March. The European Commission will be represented by Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquín Almunia, Internal Market and Services Commissioner Charlie McCreevy and Taxation and Customs union Commissioner László Kovács. A press conference is expected to take place after the meeting.
Before the meeting starts, over breakfast, Ecofin ministers will discuss the economic situation in the EU with a special focus on price developments.
Implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact (AT)
The Council is expected to give its opinion on the updated stability/convergence programmes of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Malta, Austria, Portugal and Slovenia, on which the Commission made recommendations on 13 February (see IP/08/213 and IP/08/214), and on the programmes of Denmark, Ireland, Greece, Spain and Lithuania. See Commission assessments and recommendations published on 19 February (IP/08/256 and IP/08/257).
With these 14 programmes and the 11 already examined by Commission and Council in the previous months, only the programmes of Belgium and Poland have yet to be sent to, and be assessed by, the Commission.
Preparation of the European Council (13-14 March)
ECFIN ministers will finalise preparations of the European Council of 13-14 March. The latter includes the adoption of the BEPGs for the next three-year's cycle of the revised Lisbon Agenda and the country-specific recommendations; the adoption of the Interim Report on financial stability issues and an exchange of views on Sovereign Wealth Funds, based on the Commission Communication adopted on 27 February.
The Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs is the backbone of Europe's efforts to address the challenges of ageing and globalisation. The Strategy has ended its first three-year cycle and so, at the Spring European Council in March 2008, agreement is needed on reform priorities for the next cycle. The key issue is the need for a proposal for the revision of the Integrated Guidelines, often also known as the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines. These are an instrument at the heart of the Lisbon Strategy aiming to foster coherent, consistent Member State and Community reform measures; As the Guidelines expired at the end of 2007, a proposal is obligatory. The Commission and Member States have agreed that the Guidelines should not be changed and that the focus should be kept on implementation. Changes, however, have been agreed to the text accompanying the Guidelines to ensure that they are up to date and reflect the current economic conjuncture.
Ministers will discuss the current financial turmoil, its implications for the EU economy and the progress in the policy response since the adoption of the ECOFIN roadmap in October 2007. They are expected to adopt a report on financial stability issues covering such topics for transmission to the Spring European Council of 13 and 14 March. The European Commission has contributed to these discussions by way of a Communication entitled "Europe's financial system: adapting to change" made public on 27 February. In this Communication, the Commission asks EU leaders at the Spring European Council to build on the road map agreed by the ECOFIN Council in October 2007 and “go one step further” by confirming at head of state and government level the principles which will should guide the EU internally and in international fora. Those principles should include: primary responsibility for managing risk rests with individual financial institutions and investors; national regulatory and supervisory frameworks must be equal to the task of coping with rapid change and innovation in financial products; cooperation between regulatory authorities within the EU and globally must be stepped up.
Commissioners Almunia and Mc Creevy will present the Commission Communication on Sovereign Wealth Funds, approved by the College on 27 February. The Communication - "A common European approach to Sovereign Wealth Funds" - calls for a common EU approach and expresses support for the work currently under way in the IMF and the OECD aimed at finding a global solution. It also points out that a code of conduct for SWFs has to be preferred to formal regulation. Finance Ministers are expected to endorse the Communication, which will then go to the Spring European Council for the final approval.
General budget of the European Union (CA)
The 2009 budget will be the third budget of the 2007-2013 financial framework 2007-2013, playing an important role in helping the EU reach its objectives as many EU programmes, launched in 2007, reach cruising speed. One of the main challenges will be to ensure the coherence of EU actions while adapting to a constantly evolving environment. As for the last two budgets, the 2006 Inter-institutional Agreement (IIA 17/05/06) on budgetary discipline and sound financial management will continue to be the cornerstone for 2009.
The Council's adoption of its conclusions on the guidelines for the 2009 budget is the starting position of the Council in the 2009 budget procedure. The first discussion between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on 2009 priorities will take place at the trialogue between on April 16th 2008.
The Council stresses the importance of respecting the principles of budgetary discipline and sound financial management. For Dalia Grybauskaite, Commissioner for Financial Programming and Budget, a good spirit of cooperation between the two arms of the budgetary authority and the Commission is essential to reach a satisfactory agreement on the 2009 budget. Close budgetary monitoring and ensuring proper budget implementation are also top priorities and, as part of these efforts, maintaining effective budget forecasts is vital. The Commission will present its preliminary draft budget (PDB) on April 30th 2008.
On 22 February the Commission adopted and transmitted its Communication to the Council on possible far-reaching measures to combat VAT fraud (IP/08/291). The introduction of taxation for intra-Community supplies and the introduction of a generalised reverse charge in domestic transactions. Moreover, in the Communication the Commission explained its position towards the introduction of a pilot project on generalised reverse charge system.
The Presidency will try to reach Council conclusions that would guide the Commission in its future work on EU measures (both conventional and far-reaching) against VAT fraud.
Following Commissioner Kovács' visit in Hong-Kong this January (IP/08/166), he will debrief the Council on the results of the first exploratory discussions with Hong Kong, Singapore and Macao concerning the adoption, by these jurisdictions, of measures equivalent to the Savings Directive.
Commissioner Kovács will also seek Ministers' views on a possible revision of the scope of the Savings Tax Directive, which has become particularly relevant in the light of the recent discovery in Germany of widespread tax evasion.