When Will Mr Brown Finally Answer All Those Eurosceptic Lies? ; `Surveillance of Each Other's Budgets Has Been Taking Place among Finance Ministers for 10 Years'
Clarke, Kenneth, The Independent (London, England)
AS THE general election gets closer, the press and media are increasing the space for Eurosceptic stories. The right-wing newspapers are quite determined to make Europe in general, and the single currency in particular, the central issue in the campaign, whatever the intentions of the politicians may be. Sometimes this simply produces absurd exaggeration of trivial incidents, such as the weight that was given to Tony Blair saying that early in the next Parliament meant within the first two years of the next Parliament.
Other campaigning is more insidious. The Eurosceptics have scored an easy hit with the controversy about Europe's supposed interference with Irish and British budget-making. All the usual Eurosceptics have rushed to claim that Britain would face controls and penalties if it joined the single currency. They claim to foresee how British chancellors might be forced to comply with the instructions of other finance ministers on our taxes and our public spending.
This has been a classic Eurosceptic scam. Surveillance and discussion of each other's budgets has been taking place within the European Council of Finance Ministers for about 10 years, ever since the Treaty of Maastricht. I regularly took part in these discussions and reported back on them to Parliament. I also played a part in drafting the so-called Growth and Stability Pact, which does indeed allow the possibility of fines, but only on those member states within the single-currency zone that persist in fiscal deficits exceeding 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).
Most press and broadcast reports of the recent criticism of Ireland and the mild criticism of Britain were extremely wide of the reality of this process. I was not surprised to find that the only two journalists who asked me for interviews failed to use my comments, because I was effectively trying to kill their story.
The conclusions of the finance ministers were only recommendations to the Irish and British ministers. They have no legally binding effect. Charlie McCreevy, Ireland's Finance Minister, dismissed the complaints, as well he might, as Ireland has the healthiest budget surplus in the EU. Gordon Brown received some praise for his economic stewardship, but he rejected the justified worries of the other ministers about the prospects of going into deficit in future years.
At the moment, no one thinks that there is the faintest risk in the foreseeable future of Ireland or Britain going into a budget deficit exceeding 3 per cent of GDP. There is absolutely no question of any fines and penalties being imposed either on Ireland, which is already inside the single currency, or on the United Kingdom which is still dithering about whether to join or not.
The point of the mutual surveillance of budgets is to ensure that countries are encouraged to co-operate on fiscal policies within the single market, so that they do not cause disruption to other countries' economies. Penalties are contemplated in extreme cases on members of the single-currency zone to ensure that a …
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Publication information: Article title: When Will Mr Brown Finally Answer All Those Eurosceptic Lies? ; `Surveillance of Each Other's Budgets Has Been Taking Place among Finance Ministers for 10 Years'. Contributors: Clarke, Kenneth - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: February 14, 2001. Page number: 4. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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