Commissioner Pierre Moscovici was asked to account for the European Commission’s decision to give France, Italy and Belgium more time to hit Eurozone budgetary targets by Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee MEPs on Tuesday. MEPs urged that budget plan deadlines should be met and that criteria for applying rules more flexibly to some EU member states than others should be clear and detailed.
Markus Ferber (EPP, DE), Bernd Lucke (ECR, DE) and Sylvie Goulard (ALDE, FR) focused their questions on the need to strengthen and enforce the rules. Other MEPs stressed that the Commission should ensure it cannot be accused of using double standards and urged it to state clear criteria for treating selected EU countries differently.
Mr Moscovici denied that the Commission was treating the three countries differently from other EU member states – the extra three months would merely give them time to adjust their plans, he said. In the case of France, the figures for 2014 were not clear enough for the Commission to be sure that the agreed measures had not been taken and thus impose penalties, he added.
The three factors to be taken into account are whether a country has taken measures to remedy non-compliance with the Stability and Growth Pact, whether its structural reforms suffice, and whether these reforms actually improve its budgetary position, explained Mr Moscovici.
Elisa Ferreira (S&D, PT), Miguel Viegas (GUE/NGL, PT) and Ernest Urtasun (Greens/EFA, ES) asked about flexibility in exceptional circumstances and whether the rules imposed are always right, especially given their negative social impact.
Mr Moscovici replied that flexibility is possible only within the rules. Within the Commission, “we decided that there were no exceptional circumstances in the member states but I assume the final responsibility for the decisions”, he added.
He insisted that although specific factors such as low growth and low inflation are taken into account, Eurozone countries are nonetheless expected to make structural and fiscal reform efforts.
Mr Moscovici said he preferred a dialogue with member states to achieve the Commission’s goals and that it would use penalties only as a last resort. The Commission also plans to discuss with the European Parliament what structural reforms are still needed, he added.