McCreevy questions pace of EU economic integration


The Minister for Finance, Mr McCreevy, has criticised a Commission proposal to strengthen economic policy co-ordination in the euro-zone and suggested that over-ambitious calls for European political integration could be driving voters into the arms of far-right, populist parties.

Speaking in Brussels after a meeting of EU finance ministers, Mr McCreevy said that recent election results in Italy, France, Denmark and the Netherlands showed that voters were uncomfortable with the pace of integration. "It is no accident that in all European countries, there is growing support for people who want to step back," he said.

Mr McCreevy was responding to a proposal by the Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, Mr Pedro Solbes, to give the Eurogroup - an informal meeting of euro-zone finance ministers, formal status. Mr Solbes also wants finance ministers to discuss in advance budget proposals that could affect their country's compliance with the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines.

Mr McCreevy said that few EU finance ministers wanted to cede budgetary control and he suggested that the Eurogroup functioned efficiently and was not in need of reform. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said.

Mr Solbes said that, although he understood Mr McCreevy's point of view, he believed that ministers could discuss their budget plans more openly. And he rejected the minister's suggestion that over-zealous European integrationists were feeding support for the far-right. "I think that's going too far," he said.

Monday night's meeting of euro-zone finance ministers was dominated by discussion of Mr Solbes's proposals and by a speech the Commissioner made on Friday outlining proposals the Commission might make to the Convention on the Future of Europe. Among the Commissioner's proposals was that, in an enlarged EU, there should be unanimity if politicians wanted to amend the Commission's recommendations on broad economic policy guidelines without its acquiescence. Some ministers were annoyed that Mr Solbes made his suggestions public before consulting them.

Germany's finance minister, Mr Hans Eichel, dismissed the suggestion that opposition to the Commission's proposals on broad economic policy guidelines would require unanimity. Mr Eichel agreed with Mr McCreevy that there was little appetite among the ministers for a significant strengthening of economic co-ordination.