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MENAFN - AFP - 13/11/2012

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(MENAFN - AFP) European finance ministers focus on how to boost the slumping economy and the bloc's hotly contested budget after their eurozone peers reported progress on solving Greece's bailout problems.

The gathering of all 27 EU ministers comes in the run-up to what is likely to be a fractious November 22-23 European summit on the 2014-20 budget, with many insisting there can be no increase in EU spending when austerity is the order of the day.

They will also be looking ahead to a December 13-14 leaders summit which will try to nail down key elements of Europe's new debt defences, among them a single bank regulator, a major bone of contention between euro- and non-euro states led by Britain.

France and Germany meanwhile differ over the scope of the new regulator, with Paris saying it should oversee all banks while Berlin argues it should only cover the biggest and most important, at least initially.

The finance ministers convene Tuesday with the economy showing every sign of slipping deeper into recession, with Germany, Europe's powerhouse and paymaster, recently displaying signs that it is no longer immune to the ravages of the debt crisis.

The economic slump has been made worse by the grim national austerity measures adopted to tackle the debt crisis, with governments everywhere cutting spending and hiking taxes so as to balance the public finances.

The austerity hardline, championed by Germany along with smaller member states such as Finland and the Netherlands, plays badly in those such as Spain and Greece where unemployment has soared to around 25 percent, while youth jobless rates run at an incredible 50 percent.

On Monday eurozone finance ministers agreed that while Greece had made substantial progress on its debt bailout programme, they would still have to meet again on November 20 to clear the way for a long-delayed aid payment.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras had said his country would go broke by Friday if Monday's meeting failed to produce the loan payment, but Eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker said there would be no problem with Athens rolling over its debt due on that day.

Ministers acknowledged "the considerable efforts" made by Greece and accordingly agreed that revised fiscal targets "would be an appropriate adjustment."

Athens wants its current 240 billion euros bailout accord running to 2014 to be extended to 2016, giving it more time to meet targets which have been torpedoed by a much deeper economic slump than expected.

There is however a cost involved -- a draft report by the troika of the EU, International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank seen Monday put the total extra funding needed for the two years at nearly 33 billion euros, with the bill rising as the economic outlook darkens.

Tuesday's meeting will also take up the Financial Transaction Tax.

The tax was originally an EU proposal, partly intended to raise new funds and partly to put a cap on the banking sector excesses blamed for the global financial crisis of 2008 which morphed into the debt crisis.

Following broad opposition, the idea was dropped but 11 eurozone states led by France and Germany have returned to the charge, seeking to implement it on their own.

With the backin g of more than a third of the 27 EU member nations, the measure can be implemented under an "enhanced cooperation" procedure but it will still need the blessing of the other EU member states who will not be adopting it.


 






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