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ECOFIN

Volume 479: debated on Thursday 17 July 2008

The Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 8 July 2008. I attended for the UK. Items on the agenda were as follows:

Presidency Work Programme

The French Presidency presented the ECOFIN work programme for the next six months followed by an exchange of views. As part of the agreed three-presidency approach, the French Presidency will begin the first stages of the common priorities agreed with the incoming Czech and Swedish Presidencies in 2009. These priorities include boosting confidence in the financial system, continuing the integration of the internal market, and responding to citizens’ concerns about the current economic situation. The UK supports the proposed work programme.

Implementation of the stability and growth pact

The Council adopted opinions on the updated stability programme for Belgium and the updated convergence programme for Poland. Ministers also agreed to a draft decision ending the excessive deficit procedure for Poland, repealing ECOFIN’s decision in 2004 noting the existence of an excessive Government deficit. In addition the Council agreed to a decision and recommendations under articles 104(6) and 104(7) of the EC treaty with regard to the UK, placing the UK in excessive deficit procedure.

Adoption of the euro by Slovakia

The Council adopted the legislative acts required for the adoption of the euro by Slovakia from January 2009, finalising the agreement at the June European Council, and adopted regulations for the conversion rate of 30.1260 Slovak korunas to the euro. The UK congratulates Slovakia on the substantial reforms made in order to meet the Maastricht criteria for entry into the single currency.

Oil price trends

Following the discussion at the June European Council, Ministers held an exchange of views on the situation in the oil and fuel markets and on the French Presidency work programme to prepare ECOFIN’s contribution to the October and December European Councils. This included reaching political agreement on the principle of weekly publication of oil stock information. The UK supports the work underway to better understand what is driving the development of oil prices under the guiding principles set out in the Manchester 2005 declaration on the need to avoid distortionary fiscal interventions in the oil markets.

Governance of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB)

The Council welcomed the proposals by the International Accounting Standards Committee Foundation (IASCF) to enhance its governance structure and to improve the functioning of the IASB, and on that basis adopted conclusions that will be submitted as the European contribution to the public consultation on IASB. The UK supports the efforts to improve internal processes and governance within the IASB, principally through improving the oversight arrangements and the creation of a new monitoring board.

Financial markets: situation and implementation of the Council road map

The Commission presented the state of play on the October 2007 ECOFIN Council roadmap. Ministers agreed to conclusions calling for the fullest possible transparency in order to bring confidence to the market. Ministers also agreed conclusions supporting the need for a strengthened oversight regime for credit rating agencies, which will be based on Commission proposals to follow in the autumn. The UK continues to support work to improve the stability of financial markets, and will accordingly examine the Commission’s proposals in detail.

Budget ECOFIN will be held on 17 July in Brussels and the UK permanent representative will attend and represent the UK. Discussion will be on the preliminary draft budget for the European Communities for 2009 and the meeting will include conciliation with the European Parliament, during which Council and the European Parliament will discuss expenditure levels. Items on the agenda are as follows:

Preparation for the conciliation meeting with the European Parliament;

Conciliation with the European Parliament;

Establishment by the Council of the draft EC Budget for 2009.