Ministers held their annual economic policy dialogue with the Finance Ministers and Central Bank representatives of the EU candidate countries: Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey. The Government support the conclusions agreed, which acknowledge the progress achieved by candidate countries in stabilising and transforming their economies.
ECOFIN held an extraordinary meeting on 9 May to address financial stability in Europe. Ministers from the previous Administration agreed a comprehensive package of measures including a European financial stabilisation mechanism of up to €500 billion with parallel support from the IMF. Ministers also expressed a strong commitment to ensuring fiscal sustainability and enhanced economic growth in all member states, and agreed that plans for fiscal consolidation and structural reforms would be accelerated, where warranted. They underlined the need to make rapid progress on financial market regulation and supervision, particularly in derivative markets and on the role of credit rating agencies.
As a follow up to the extraordinary meeting, Ministers took note of additional consolidation measures outlined by Spain and Portugal in their 2010 and 2011 budgets. The Commission will evaluate these measures in June within the framework of the excessive deficit procedure.
ECOFIN reached a political agreement on the AIFM directive to establish a framework for monitoring the risks posed by alternative investment funds while allowing fund managers to market their funds throughout the EU single market. In a statement in the minutes of the Council, the Council notes the concerns expressed by some member states on certain aspects of the presidency's proposed general approach, in particular as regards to the third-country provisions. It invites the presidency to start negotiations with the European Parliament on the basis of this general approach, taking into account the concerns expressed by member states.
The Commission presented its draft 2011 budget, including a total of €142.6 billion in commitment appropriations (+0.8% compared with 2010) and €130.1 billion in payment appropriations (+5.8% compared with 2010). For many member states, the EU has agreed that national budgets should be cut to meet consolidation targets and bring deficits under control. The Government believe that the proposed increases in the EU budget must therefore be reduced and a freeze in spending should be considered before the UK can give its agreement.
ECOFIN debated a draft recommendation on broad guidelines for the economic policies of the whole EU and for member states, aimed at implementing the Europe 2020 strategy for jobs and growth. The draft recommendation, together with a draft decision on guidelines for the employment policies of the member states, forms integrated guidelines setting a framework for structural reforms to be carried out by the member states. These will return to ECOFIN in June for agreement before being endorsed by the European Council on 17 June.
Ministers held an exchange of views following a presentation by the Commission on enhanced economic policy co-ordination in the euro area and the EU as a whole. This formed the basis for further discussions at an EU task force chaired by President Van Rompuy on 21 May, where representatives from the 27 member states discussed the measures needed for an improved crisis resolution framework and better budgetary discipline in the EU.
The Government agree that one of the key lessons of the crisis is that ex ante surveillance of economies needs to be improved at both the domestic and European level. As a single market, co-operation and co-ordination must be maintained among all member states. The Government will be an active participant in this debate but have made it clear that when it comes to national budgets, the first port of call is not the Commission but national Parliaments.
ECOFIN adopted conclusions on fiscal frameworks promoting the strengthening of national fiscal frameworks by sharing best practice, regular assessments, peer review
and credible fiscal bodies at the national level. The Government support the conclusions, which are fully in line with the announcements made on domestic fiscal reform, including the creation of the Office for Budget Responsibility.
The Council adopted conclusions on EU crisis prevention, management and resolution in the banking sector. The UK supports the conclusions, which outline a number of short to medium-term priorities for developing common national tools for use in a cross-border financial crisis. ECOFIN will continue to discuss these principles in advance of legislative proposals in 2011.
Ministers held a joint lunch with the Finance Ministers of the EU's Mediterranean partner countries to discuss implementation of the Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership Facility (FEMIP), and agreed joint conclusions endorsing ongoing close co-operation between the EU and its Mediterranean partners to facilitate economic growth and stability.
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will be held on 7 June 2010 in Luxembourg. I shall represent the United Kingdom.
The main item of the agenda will be a policy debate on the employment and social inclusion aspects of Europe 2020, the new European agenda for the next
10 years; and in particular, the employment guidelines and social inclusion target. Her Majesty's Government are still considering the proposals for a Europe 2020 strategy but there are some significant reservations about the implications of the proposals, including the balance of competence between member states and the European Union. On that basis I currently propose to agree to the target but to maintain a reserve on the guidelines.
The presidency will seek political agreement on a proposal for a Council regulation extending the provisions of Regulation (EC) No 883/2004 and Regulation (EC) No [...] to nationals of third countries who are not already covered by these provisions solely on the ground of their nationality. The UK is not opted in to this regulation and I do not propose to intervene.
The presidency also will seek political agreement on a proposal for a Council decision on the position to be taken by the Community within the Association Councils established by the agreements with Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Israel. The UK is not opted in to these decisions which cover social security provisions with the six countries. We have significant concerns that the proposal goes beyond the original provisions and extends social security coverage in a way we find unacceptable. I intend to make a brief intervention at the Council which reiterates the UK concerns.
The presidency also will seek four sets of Council conclusions-on adequate pensions and social inclusion; new skills for new jobs; advancing Roma inclusion; and active ageing-and a Council resolution on a new European disability framework for adoption. I am prepared to accept these, on the basis that they are all non-binding and therefore not contentious.
There will be a progress report on the proposal for a Council directive on implementing the principle of equal treatment-anti-discrimination-between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.
Under any other business, there will be information from the presidency on the equal treatment between men and women engaged in an activity in a self-employed capacity. The Italians will raise also, as an information point, their ideas on simplifying the delivery rules of the European social fund (ESF). There also will be information on conferences held under the Spanish presidency and a presentation by the incoming Belgian presidency.