Agenda eurogroep: begrotingstekorten Frankrijk en Duitsland (en)
Eurogroup Finance Ministers are due to meet in Brussels at 19h00 on Monday 24th November. A press conference is due at the end of the Eurogroup meeting. The meeting will be preceded at 16h00 by the ninth meeting of the Macroeconomic Dialogue at political level where representatives of the Council (Troika), the Commission, the European Central Bank and the Social Partners will exchange views on monetary, fiscal and wage policies. At 17h30 a meeting will take place between the Ecofin Troika and representatives of the European parliament to discuss the economic situation and the European Growth Initiative. The European Union's Council of Economics and Finance Ministers meeting will take place on Tuesday 25th November at 10h00. The meeting will be preceded by a breakfast meeting to discuss IGC related matters. The European Commission will be represented at the Council by Commission President Romano Prodi, Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pedro Solbes and Internal Market and Taxation Commissioner Frits Bolkestein. A press conference will be held at the end of the Council meeting (±19h00).
The Eurogroup will start with a discussion on latest economic developments. Minister will then discuss the excessive deficit procedures for France and Germany. The Commission has adopted two recommendations for France that are pending adoption by Ecofin. The first under Article 104(8) of the Treaty establishes that France has taken no effective action in response to the Council recommendation under Article 104(7) of the 3rd of June (IP/03/1353). According to Article 4 of Council Regulation No 1467/97 of the Stability and Growth Pact any decision under Article 104(8) shall be taken immediately after the expiry of the deadline set in the recommendation under Article 104(7). The Commission adopted its recommendation on 8 October, i.e. 5 days after the expiry of the 3rd of October deadline set by the Council. The Council was expected to decide on this recommendation in its meeting of the 4th of November but decided to postpone the decision to the 25th of November. The second Commission recommendation is made under Article 104(9) of the Treaty and outlines the measures that France would need to take in order to remedy the excessive deficit situation (IP/03/1420). The Commission adopted this recommendation on 21 October. According to Article 5 of Council Regulation 1467/97 of the Stability and Growth Pact, any Council decision under Article 104(9) shall be taken within one month of the Council decision under Article 104(8). Similarly the Commission has adopted two recommendations for Germany.
The first establishes that Germany, while taking effective action in line with the Council recommendation of 21 January 2003 during the course of 2003, will also fail to comply with the Council recommendations. This is due to the fact that the actions taken during 2003 proved inadequate. More important Germany will fail to comply with the second recommendation that requires Germany to end the excessive deficit situation in 2004. The second Commission recommendation is made under Article 104(9) of the Treaty and outlines the measures that Germany would need to take in order to remedy the excessive deficit situation (IP/03/1560). For both countries the current recommendations under Article 104(7) of the Ecofin remain valid unless they are abrogated or a new Council decision under Article 104 of the Treaty takes place.
Ministerial Breakfast on IGC (GT)
At their latest lunch on 4th November Ecofin Ministers decided to continue influencing the proceedings of the IGC, while focusing on points and acting through national channels. There will be no formal Ecofin paper for the IGC.
Council of Economics and Finance Ministers
Structural indicators (GT)
In its Communication on Structural Indicators, the Commission proposed a shortlist of 14 structural indicators to be used in the Spring Report. The Commission also proposed that this indicator list be agreed for a three-year period. The shortlist of indicators will be accompanied by a publicly accessible database and website, containing all indicators on last year's longer list as well as some recently developed new indicators.
The different Council committees concerned -Social Protection Committee, the Economic Policy Committee, the Employment Committee and the Working Party on Environment- have met, and agreed on draft Council conclusions in reaction to the Commission's proposals. In it, they support the idea of having a shortlist of 14 headline indicators fixed for three years. The Council Committees also suggest replacing three indicators from the Commission's shortlist.
Structural Indicators Shortlist
|Draft Council Opinion|
|1||GDP per capita in PPS||GDP per capita in PPS|
|2||Labour productivity||Labour productivity|
|3||Employment rate*||Employment rate*|
|4||Employment rate of older workers*||Employment rate of older workers*|
|5||Spending on human resources (public expenditure on education)||Educational attainment (20-24)|
|6||Research and Development expenditure||Research and Development expenditure|
|7||Information Technology expenditure||Business investment|
|Financial market integration (convergence in bank lending rates)||Relative price levels|
|9||At risk-of-poverty rate*||At risk-of-poverty rate*|
|10||Long-term unemployment*||Long-term unemployment*|
|11||Dispersion of regional employment rates||Dispersion of regional employment rates|
|12||Greenhouse gases emissions||Greenhouse gases emissions|
|13||Energy intensity of the economy||Energy intensity of the economy|
|14||Volume of transport||Volume of transport|
European Growth Initiative (GT)
The Commission adopted its final report on the Growth Initiative on 11 November (IP/03/1521). The Commission report will be discussed by the European Council in December. The Ecofin Council is expected to adopt also a report to the European Council in its meeting of 25th November. There are no substantial differences between the two approaches. The Ecofin Council does not intend to review the Quick Start Programme list established by the Commission.
The fundamental principles established in the Commission final report are the following:
- The Initiative is part of the process of structural change in the context of the Lisbon strategy. Its objective is to unlock and speed up growth-inducing investments and boosting confidence in the EU's potential.
- The Initiative must build upon the synergy and co-ordination between the Commission, the EIB, the Member States and the different relevant Council formations.
- Both at the Community and Member State level, budgetary actions should mobilise resources for priority investments in full compliance with the relevant budgetary constraints, i.e. the current Financial Perspective for the Community and the Stability and Growth Pact for the Member States.
The Commission report, which was drafted in close co-operation with the EIB, recalls the non-financial measures required at the European level to improve the regulatory, administrative and financial environment for investment. Moreover, the Commission final report includes:
Quick Start Programme
The Commission has identified 56 projects where work could be started within the next three years: 31 in transport, 17 in energy and 8 in high-speed communications networks, R&D and innovation. The total volume of investment required for these projects is around EUR 62 billion between now and 2010, i.e an annual investment of around EUR 10 billion, with an overall estimated 60/40 split between public and private financing.
As regards transport projects, these are sections of the 29 priority projects and their sections identified in the Commission TEN Guidelines proposal submitted to the Council on 1st of October 2003. The projects related to knowledge reflect research, innovation and eEurope priorities within the Lisbon strategy. These projects have been identified on the basis of four criteria: maturity, trans-frontier dimension, impact on growth and innovation, and environmental benefits. This is not a closed list. As other projects mature, provided they satisfy the above-mentioned criteria, they may become part of the Quick Start Programme.
Innovative financing techniques
Securitisation financing can help to increase the available pool of resources from financial markets for growth-inducing investments. In this respect, the preliminary proposal on Securitisation Trusts put forward by the EIB, as a possible mechanism aimed at the development of a more liquid market, is an encouraging step.
Regarding the EU Guarantee instrument, the Commission services, in collaboration with the EIB, are starting market testing of the scheme with private financial institutions and are examining budgetary-related aspects. The Commission will also collaborate with Member States in order to further study the scheme, in particular concerning their possible involvement as co-guarantors.
Statistical principles on accounting treatment of PPPs
The Commission final report outlines the four key principles governing the accounting treatment of PPPs in national budgets, following the work carried out by the Eurostat PPP (Public-Private Partnership) Task Force. These principles will be further detailed by specific guidelines, whose final adoption is expected to take place before March 2004 following consultation of the CMFB (Committee of Monetary, Financial and Balance of Payment Statistics) which brings together one representative of each member state statistical office and one of each national central bank.
EIB mandates and wider Europe (GT)
The Council will discuss conclusions on two issues:
external mandate and guarantee fund Mid-term review
The Commission adopted on 13 October proposals on the EIB external lending mandate and the Guarantee Fund for external actions. The mid-term review exercise that led to these proposals was undertaken in the context of the "Wider Europe" Communication from the Commission of March 2003, which provides for a new framework for relations with the European Union's Eastern and Southern neighbours. The Commission is in favour of proposing support to these two regions covered in the Wider Europe Communication: the Mediterranean, and Russia and the Western Newly Independent States (WNIS, i.e. Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus). The Commission's position assumes that problems arising in the Southern countries would affect Northern Member States. Equally, it recognises that developments in Russia and the Ukraine can have a significant economic impact on the whole of Europe.
The Presidency proposal which is on the table confirms the following geographical balance between lending to the Northern and the Southern neighbours of Europe:
- The "surplus margin" of EUR 2.2 billion, stemming from the removal of the acceding states from the mandate upon enlargement, will be transferred to the Mediterranean Countries, in view of the political commitment already taken.
- The lending action to Russia and the WNIS will not be part of the general mandate. It will be a further development to the existing Northern Dimension Decision, with a guarantee coverage of 100%.
- The allocation for EIB lending to Russia and the WNIS is set at EUR 500 million until January 2007
This Presidency proposal is close to the Commission's proposal.
Review of the Mediterranean EIB Investment Facility (FEMIP)
FEMIP was launched in October 2002. While expected to significantly increase the volume of EIB lending in the region, it was given the particular mandate to focus its operations on private sector development. FEMIP has performed well in its first year, with new operations worth € 1.8 billion, out of which about 60% went to private sector support.
The ECOFIN and European Council in March 2002 had requested that a decision on the incorporation of this facility into an EIB subsidiary be considered after one year and this review is now expected to take place before the end of 2003. To facilitate this review, the Commission carried out an Extended Impact Assessment (EIA) on the FEMIP (IP/03/1384). Having examined the functioning of FEMIP, the EIA assesses the two core options - developing FEMIP or establishing a subsidiary- and their potential impact on a number of criteria.
This assessment concludes that FEMIP is very efficient in terms of the price for the type of products it delivers, mainly because it benefits of the EIB's strong leverage to borrow at cheap conditions on the market. On the other hand, establishing a subsidiary would have an added value in meeting the private sector mandate. A subsidiary could adopt a risk profile more suited to private sector needs and offer the full range of financial instruments geared towards private sector development, notably equity instruments, and adapted to SME needs. A subsidiary would also involve a higher degree of ownership in our financial co-operation with Mediterranean Partners through their participation in the capital of the institution.
The Commission has thus concluded that it favours the incorporation of FEMIP into an EIB majority-owned subsidiary. This would establish a dynamic instrument for our long term neighbourhood policy. In case this option cannot be pursued at this time, the Commission recommends that FEMIP should be further developed and that an agreement should be reached to incorporate it at a second stage into an EIB majority-owned subsidiary.
Implementation of the excessive deficit procedure for France and Germany (GT)
This would be a restricted session of the Council. The Commission expects a Council decision on its recommendation for France and Germany under Article 104(8) (see Eurogroup briefing above). All member states may vote on Article 104(8) excluding the country concerned. Voting weights are as follows:
Table 1. Voting weights concerning decisions adopted until 30.04.2004 in accordance with Art. 104(8)
|Weights applied for a decision on France (similar for Germany)|
|2/3 of total votes||52|
Table 2. Voting weights concerning decisions adopted until 31.10.2004 in accordance with Art. 104(9)
|Weights applied for a decision on France (similar for Germany)|
|2/3 of total votes||40|
The Council is due to try to reach agreement on a general approach on the European Commission's proposal for a Directive introducing minimum transparency requirements for information which must be provided by companies whose securities are traded on a regulated market, such as a stock exchange (see IP/03/436 and MEMO/03/68). The proposal, a key part of the Financial Services Action Plan, aims to enhance investor protection, attract investors to the European market place and improve the efficiency, openness and integrity of European capital markets. It would also remove certain national barriers linked to transparency requirements, which may discourage issuers from having their securities admitted to trading on more than one regulated market in the EU. In order to achieve these aims, the proposed Directive would upgrade the current level and frequency of the mandatory financial information that issuers have to provide to the markets throughout the financial year. It would also simplify requirements issuers must meet on the use of languages and on the way information is disseminated. Discussions at the Council are likely to focus on the issue of quarterly reporting requirements.
Risk Capital Action Plan final progress report (JT and GT)
Commissioners Bolkestein and Solbes will present to the Council the European Commission's fifth and final progress report on the implementation of the Risk Capital Action Plan (RCAP) which concludes this year (see IP/03/1506). The Report points to important progress since the launching of the RCAP in 1998 in setting up an appropriate regulatory framework, with key measures having been adopted in 2003 as part of the EU's Financial Services Action Plan (FSAP). The main conclusions of the report are that private equity investment in the EU, including both venture capital and buy-out investment, increased slightly in 2002 compared to 2001. It has only ever been higher in 2000. But there was an important shift towards less risky buy-outs, which at €16.8 billion reached their highest ever level, more than double the 1998 volume. Investment of venture capital fell significantly compared to 2001, to €10.1 billion, partly in the wake of the bursting of the Internet "bubble", and was roughly half the level it reached in 2000. Venture capital investment in the US contracted even more severely but was still double that of the EU. Although the situation remains difficult, general economic recovery will allow the European venture capital market to resume growth from a significantly strengthened base.
Financial Services Action Plan Progress Report (JT)
The Council is due to endorse the European Commission's latest (9th) Progress Report on the Financial Services Action Plan (FSAP). The report concludes that the FSAP has been one of the driving forces behind the developing European capital market, and so has improved prospects for sustainable, investment-driven growth and employment (see IP/03/1591). Progress towards adopting the legislative measures of the FSAP has been maintained. Nevertheless, the Report argues that given the European Parliament elections and EU Enlargement next year, it is crucially important that the remaining major FSAP measures are agreed in the next four months. The report also outlines the initiatives taken by the Commission to assess the current state of integration of European financial markets.
Code of Conduct (JT)
The Council is due to take note of a report from the Code of Conduct Group (Business Taxation) concerning implementation of rollback and standstill. The Code of Conduct that the Council formally implemented as part of a tax package in June this year (see IP/03/787) requires Member States to refrain from introducing any new harmful business tax measures ("standstill") and amend any laws or practices that are deemed to be harmful in respect of the principles of the Code ("rollback"). The code covers tax measures (legislative, regulatory and administrative) which have, or may have, a significant impact on the location of business in the Union.
Commissioner Bolkestein will comment that the results of the Code of Conduct work to date as set out in the Group's report confirm that this initiative against harmful tax competition has indeed proved successful. With only a few outstanding issues left to be dealt with, the rollback process appears to be well underway in the Member States. The situation in the dependencies is somewhat less advanced but there is no reason to believe that they will not live up to their formal commitments. He will support the continuation of work by the Code Group on monitoring rollback and standstill.
Value Added Tax (VAT) reduced rates (JT)
Ministers are due to continue their discussions of a Commission proposal of July 2003 for simplifying the rules on reduced rates of VAT (see IP/03/1024 and MEMO/03/149). The Commission's aim is to seek a balanced approach for the whole of the European Union. This requires going beyond a review of the restrictive list of goods and services to which a reduced VAT rate may be applied (Annex H to the Sixth VAT Directive) and examining the various specific derogations available to some Member States (e.g. in respect of restaurant services, housing, domestic care services and the supply of gas and electricity), with a view to avoiding potential distortions of competition that have given rise to numerous complaints from traders. The proposal also includes appropriate measures for a final decision on the VAT rate applicable to labour-intensive services. It does not call into question the optional nature of reduced VAT rates: no Member State would be obliged to introduce new reduced VAT rates.
Commissioner Bolkestein will welcome the Presidency's attempts to find common ground amongst the Member States on this proposal. However, he will once again emphasise the need to ensure that the spirit of the Commission's proposal is not lost during the negotiating process. Any new VAT Directive must fulfil the objectives of the Treaty's rules (Article 93), namely that VAT and other indirect taxation rules at EU level must ensure the proper functioning of the Internal Market. The Commission's principal objective with this proposal is to simplify and rationalise the current situation, which is, to say the least, chaotic. The Commission could only support a compromise that represented a step-forward for the Internal Market.
He will also state his view that the extension beyond the end of this year of the experimental reduced rates for labour intensive services is not a feasible solution. Such an extension would merely postpone a resolution of this issue. Moreover, it could give rise to the expectation that the experiment will become permanent.
Savings taxation (JT)
Over lunch, Commissioner Bolkestein is due to report to Ministers on the discussions that have recently taken place with Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra and San Marino. The Commission has been engaged in intensive negotiations with these countries to reach agreement on the application by those four countries of savings tax measures "equivalent" to those agreed within the EU concerning interest income of EU residents. The Council in June (see IP/03/787) approved a draft agreement with Switzerland concerning the taxation of savings income. The Council agreed that the four elements of this agreement with Switzerland should also constitute the basis for agreements between the EU and Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco and San Marino. The Council reaffirmed that the exchange of information on as wide a basis as possible is to be the ultimate objective of the European Union in line with international developments.
Company tax EU Parent-Subsidiary Directive (JT)
The Council is likely to give its agreement without discussion to the European Commission's proposal of this summer to amend the European Community's Parent-Subsidiary Directive (90/435/EEC) (see IP/03/1214). The Council's formal adoption of the proposal will not be possible until the Parliament has given its opinion on the proposal. The proposal is intended in particular to broaden the scope of the existing Directive to cover a larger range of companies, lower from 25% to 10% the inter-company holding threshold required for the application of its tax benefits and improve the mechanisms the Directive provides for the prevention of double taxation. The European Company which can be created from 2004 (see IP/01/1376) is among the new entities proposed for addition to the list of companies covered by the Directive.
VAT proposal on implementing powers and procedure for derogations (JT)
The Council is likely to give its agreement without discussion to a Commission proposal that is designed first to ensure more transparency in the procedure whereby Member States are allowed to apply derogations from normal VAT rules and second to introduce new arrangements to ensure that all Member States apply VAT rules uniformly. The Council's formal adoption of the proposal will not be possible until the Parliament has given its opinion on the proposal. The proposal will amend the present procedure whereby the Council is deemed to have approved a measure in a Member State which departs from the normal VAT rules merely if it raises no objections within a two-month period following the Member States' formal notification of the measure. The tacit approval procedure creates difficulties for traders who are expected to comply with national measures taken following that decision without ever receiving any information about it. The proposal will also confer on the Council the power to adopt common technical administrative measures to implement general rules, so as to ensure more uniform application of Community VAT law. Differences in the practical interpretation by the Member States of the common VAT rules constitute major obstacles for firms wishing to take advance of the Internal Market.
VAT - derogation for Ireland concerning leases (JT)
The Council is due to adopt without discussion a decision to allow Ireland to continue until 31 December 1997 a special derogation from normal VAT rules in relation to leases on property that is intended to prevent avoidance of VAT.