EU executive gets national budget vetting powers

Wed Feb 20, 2013 7:42am EST
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By Jan Strupczewski

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission will check euro zone countries' draft budgets to verify if they are in line with EU rules and will ask for changes if they are not, under a deal struck on Wednesday with the European Parliament.

After months of wrangling, EU lawmakers backed the new powers for the Commission, the EU executive, to further strengthen euro zone budget discipline and prevent another sovereign debt crisis.

The new law, called in EU jargon the "two-pack", complements the existing budget rules, tightened at the end of 2011 through the introduction of swifter financial sanctions for those breaking deficit and debt limits.

It gives the Commission an extra level of oversight on member countries' budgets. Governments of course are free to ignore the commission's recommendations but risk EU legal action by doing so.

"These new laws are a key element in building stronger economic governance for the euro area and boosting the EU's armor against further economic crises," European Parliament President Martin Schulz said.

Wednesday's deal is expected to become law in March and will oblige euro zone governments to send draft budgets for the following year, based on independent economic forecasts, to the Commission before October 15 for verification.

"This will mean that the euro area can benefit from a more integrated and effective policy-setting framework already for the 2014 budgetary cycle," the EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said after the deal was reached.

Euro zone countries already agree, in a process that takes up the first six months of the year, on where their fiscal policy should be heading the following year. The Commission makes suggestions that must be approved by governments.   Continued...

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso attends a debate on the EU's long-term budget at the EU parliament in Brussels February 18, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Vidal