Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Progress… in the wrong direction

One of the joys of "Eurospeak" is its insistence on referring to the "project" in positive terms. Everything is "going forward", "advancing", "concrete" and so on.

It was thus inevitable that, at the conclusion of their all-night meeting to hammer out a deal on the EU's growth and stability pact, the eurozone finance ministers should claim that they had made progress.

Hats off, therefore, to Austrian finance minister Karl-Heinz Grasser, who tentatively agreed with this conclusion, saying that, "I think it is progress," then adding, "but to a large part in the wrong direction."

Of course, with so many issues on the table, to say nothing of the French and German determination to drive a horse and cart through the pact – and then follow up with a double-decker bus – it was never going to be that the "colleagues" were going to come out smiling, with all matters agreed.

Deutsche Welle tells the story as well as any, with the headline: No Breakthrough on EU Budget Rules”, reporting that the EU finance ministers failed to agree on "rewriting battered budget rules".

They ended their overnight meeting with a call for a new meeting later this month, which will be held on the eve of the economic European Council, to be held on 22-23 March.

EU monetary affairs commissioner Joaquin Almunia tried to put a brave face on it, admitting as he arrived for the meeting last night that, "There are a lot of issues that are open," but it looks as if the remained open.

Apparently, the talks broke down when Germany opposed the presidency deal, demanding full allowance for reunification costs, a scheme that was vociferously opposed by Austria, representing a group of smaller countries. The candid Mr Grasser stated that there was no justification for such a provision.

All this left Belgium's Didier Reynders in a sombre mood, telling reporters that, "I believe we can't go further than the text which we worked up overnight," adding that the latest draft was "at the limit of what is reasonable."

Schröder is now scheduled to meet Juncker today to present France and Germany's joint position on reforming the pact where, it is presumed, they will "make some progress". In which direction, however, remains uncertain.

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