My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Alistair Darling) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 10 November 2009. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury represented the UK. The following items were discussed:
Exit strategies from support measures to the financial sector
ECOFIN held an initial discussion on exit strategies from the measures taken by member states to support the financial sector, focusing on methods and timing for the phasing out of bank guarantee schemes put into place during the financial crisis. The Economic and Financial Committee (EFC) has been asked to take forward work on principles and possible timings, and report back as soon as possible. The UK believes that the design of successful exit strategies will need to take account of four high-level elements: co-operation, timing, sequencing and communication.
Follow-up to the October European Council
The presidency gave Ministers a debrief on the outcomes of the October European Council.
Follow-up to the G20 Finance Ministers' meeting
The UK provided a debrief of the G20 meeting in St Andrews on 6 and 7 November, where G20 Finance Ministers discussed climate finance, exit strategies, and the framework for strong, sustainable and balanced growth. The Prime Minister's calls for a rebalancing of risk and rewards in the financial sector were reiterated, as well as the options proposed to address this, which are to be further examined by the IMF: an insurance fee to reflect systemic risk; a resolution fund; contingent capital arrangements; and a global financial transactions levy. The council emphasised the importance of continuing to ensure strong co-ordination between the EU and G20.
Sustainability of public finances
Ministers discussed and agreed a set of conclusions on the sustainability of public finances. The Government remain committed to a return to sustainable public finances when the recovery is fully secured, as set out in Budget 2009.
Better regulation—reduction of administrative burdens
Ministers agreed conclusions on a Commission action programme, calling for more work to reduce administrative burdens by 25 per cent by 2012.
The council reviewed progress made in relation to priorities established on statistical governance, the reduction of administrative burden related to statistics and the status report on information requirements, and endorsed an EFC opinion.
Administrative co-operation in the field of taxation
ECOFIN discussed the draft directive, which is aimed at improving exchange of information and brings the EU into line with OECD standards by removing the right to refuse information on grounds of bank secrecy. It noted political reservations by Austria and Luxembourg and the need for further work on automatic exchange of information. It will return to ECOFIN in December.
Excise duties on tobacco products
The council reached political agreement on a draft directive aimed at updating EU rules on the structure and minimum rates of excise duties on tobacco products. The Government are pleased with the outcome. The directive should ensure a higher level of public health protection by raising minimum excise duties on cigarettes and fine-cut tobacco, which will also help to reduce revenue lost to the Exchequer from cross-border shopping and smuggling of tobacco products into the UK from low-tax EU member states.