EU finance ministers struggle for eurozone reform deal

Eurogroup meeting on 3 December 2018. Mario Centeno, President of the Eurogroup; Petteri Orpo, Finnish Minister for Finance. [Council newsroom]

EU finance ministers struggled to agree reforms to better fight against a financial crisis early Tuesday (4 December), with negotiators still at the table after more than 12 hours of talks.

“There are a lot of subjects and all of them are difficult,” a European source told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that a final news conference had been delayed to 08.45 CET.

The sought-after agreement between the EU’s 27 finance ministers, without Britain, is intended to hand authorities a more powerful tool box in the event of a major shock to the European economy.

The proposals seek to strengthen the financial plumbing of the European economy, but do not include far grander visions called for by France such as designating a eurozone finance minister or setting up a European-style IMF.

Once agreed by ministers, the reforms then need the agreed by EU leaders at a summit next week in Brussels.

Ministers were at pains to conclude discussions with divisions especially deep over the French-backed idea of setting up a eurozone budget.

Macron wins Merkel's backing on budget for eurozone

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday (19 June) won German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s backing for reforms that are aimed at bolstering the eurozone against crises, including a vaunted budget for the bloc.

National governments have for months been mulling a proposal to create some sort of budget capacity for the single currency bloc, which could be used in case of crises or economic shocks.

French President Emmanuel Macron has made the idea of a crisis-fighting budget for the 19-member single currency bloc a signature part of his vision to jump-start the EU after the debt crisis, the shock of Brexit and the rise of populists.

Completing the banking union is another difficult challenge, with powerful Germany firmly opposed to launching a European scheme, wanted by the ECB, to guarantee consumer bank deposits.

Berlin hates this proposal that is widely depicted in German media as an effort by overspending eurozone members from the south to benefit from the more sensible savers to the north.

Agreement is expected to be more easily found on expanding the responsibilities of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) — the firefighter for eurozone countries with serious debt problems.

Most of the reforms were agreed beforehand by France and Germany, Europe’s twin engines of EU unity that make up nearly half of the eurozone economy.

But the process has bogged down in recent months due to the weak government in Berlin and irritation by smaller EU members, led by the Netherlands, at having the bloc’s future dictated its biggest powers.

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