UK Prime Minister David Cameron secured an opt-out on closer economic integration, claiming a victory at his first EU summit in Brussels yesterday (17 June).
EU leaders agreed to greater surveillance and coordination of national budgets but a deal on sanctions for countries in a weak financial position will not be finalised until a high-level task force, led by permanent Council President Herman Van Rompuy, reports in October.
Cameron said he had secured "a clear agreement" that London's economic sovereignty would not be affected by any changes agreed at the next EU summit.
"This meeting has ensured that UK opt-outs are safeguarded," said the new prime minister. The bottom line for the UK is that "the euro zone needs to sort out its problems," he added.
Cameron also stressed that the UK would always present its budget to Westminster before Brussels, in response to proposals from the European Commission to have national budgets pre-examined at EU level.
Leaders await task force report
The Van Rompuy Task Force will look at whether withholding EU funds might be an option for punishing errant governments, while an earlier Franco-German proposal to suspend countries' voting rights has met with a cold response from other member states.
There have been ongoing concerns among diplomats about the practicalities of imposing sanctions, with some fearing that financial penalties would exacerbate economic problems (EURACTIV 17/06/10).
Speaking in Brussels, French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested making sanctions tougher for eurozone members than countries such as the UK and Denmark, which have opted out of the single currency – something likely to appeal to the UK's new leader.
Sarkozy also stressed that economic policy decisions in Europe were "not federal" and that the practice remained "unanimity decision-making" among heads of state and government.
The French position remains at odds with the German view that the proposed "economic government" would be for all EU members and not just eurozone countries.
At the insistence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Sarkozy dropped his earlier suggestion that the EU's economic government should be dealt with only among the 16 members of the euro zone.
Budgets to be 'peer reviewed'
It was also agreed yesterday that from 2011 member states will present budgetary data to Brussels in the first half of the year so that the EU executive and European Council can assess the assumptions underlying the plan.
At the insistence of the UK, the final agreement at the summit adds that this will "take account of national budgetary procedures" – satisfying Cameron's desire to provide information to British houses of parliament before sharing budgetary details with Europe.
In addition to stepping up the level of peer review, EU leaders agreed to develop a scoreboard "to better assess competitiveness developments and imbalances" and allow for an early detection of unsustainable or dangerous trends.