The Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 16 March 2010. The following items were on the agenda:
Alternative Investment Fund Managers (AIFM) Directive
The presidency deferred agreement on the AIFM Directive to a later Council meeting at the UK’s request. The Government have made clear that the presidency’s text is not acceptable in its current form, and believe that postponing agreement will provide an opportunity for further work on the draft directive to ensure proportionate regulation that operates effectively and properly strengthens the system, while realising the benefits of the EU single market. The directive broadly aims to establish a secure and harmonised EU framework for monitoring and supervising the risks that alternative investment fund managers pose to their investors, counterparties, other financial markets and financial stability more generally; and permit them, subject to compliance with certain requirements, to provide services and market their funds across the internal market.
VAT Invoicing Directive
ECOFIN agreed a general approach on proposals put forward by the Commission on the VAT Invoicing Directive. The UK supports the proposals, which aim to simplify and modernise electronic VAT invoicing, further harmonise general invoicing rules and reduce the burden on businesses. The directive will be adopted once the European Parliament has given its opinion.
Stability and Growth Pact: follow-up on Greece
The Council held an exchange of views on the basis of a Commission report that follows up the Council decision of 16 February 2010, giving notice to Greece to take measures for the deficit reduction judged necessary in order to remedy the situation of excessive deficit. Measures taken by the Greek authorities have been a combination of fiscal measures and structural reforms and include the announcements from the Greek authorities on 3 March of a further €4.8 billion in austerity measures. ECOFIN concluded that Greece is appropriately implementing the Council decision and stability programme, and that announced measures appear sufficient to safeguard 2010 budgetary targets provided that they are implemented effectively, fully and in a timely manner.
Preparation for the European Council
a) Europe 2020
ECOFIN agreed Council conclusions following the publication of the Commission communication on Europe 2020—a European strategy for smart sustainable and inclusive growth. The UK believes that the strategy should be focused on delivering strong, sustainable and balanced growth. After 25 and 26 March spring European Council, further work will be carried out by ECOFIN and other sectoral councils before returning to European Council for final agreement in June.
b) Exit strategies
The Council adopted two sets of Council conclusions, one on exit strategies in the financial sector, and one on the phasing out of temporary measures in labour and product markets. These will feed into further discussions at European Council.
c) Climate change finance
ECOFIN adopted Council conclusions on the economic and financial aspects of climate change. The UK believes it will be important to maintain the EU’s ambition post-Copenhagen, especially on the financial commitments made, and also hopes that the EU will issue support for work by the high level advisory group on climate finance, which will meet for the first time in London later this month, co-chaired by the Prime Minister.
Budget guidelines for 2011
The Council adopted a statement on its priorities and budgetary policy, which will serve as a reference throughout the budgetary process to come. The UK is content with the guidelines, which reflect the need for budgetary discipline in a time of fiscal constraint.