Auteur: Richard Carter
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Brussels is poised to allow acceding countries to bend some of the EU's economic rules to ease their transition to the EU.
The move will allow economic breathing space for the 10 countries joining the EU next month although it will not make it any easier for them to join the euro.
The Commissioner for economic affairs, Pedro Solbes, today announced in the European Parliament, "we might perhaps allow a multi-annual period to allow them to exceed the three percent of GDP... in order to avoid an undesirable economic impact".
He later added, "obviously, we will have to consider the situation of the new member states and... allow some flexibility from the absolute rigour of the rules".
Currently, all EU members have to strive for a deficit - tax receipts minus public spending - under three percent of gross domestic product (GDP), although the requirement is not binding for member states outside the euro.
However, this will not make it any easier for accession countries to join the euro. New Member States will still need a deficit under three percent of GDP before being allowed to join the euro, confirmed Commission spokesperson Gerassimos Thomas.
And Mr Solbes stressed that, despite offering this leeway, the three percent limit should remain the "anchor" of the EU's economic rules.
Moreover, accession countries face "significant challenges" in the transition to joining the EU, he warned.
He pointed especially to high levels of unemployment in the new member states and called for a remodernisation of their economies, with a shift into "high added-value niches".
And he warned that high deficit levels have to be tackled.
Poland, for example, has an unemployment rate approaching 20 percent and several of the accession countries currently exceed the three percent of GDP deficit ceiling.
Mr Solbes, who was making his last appearance before the European Parliament before heading back to Madrid to be Spanish finance minister, was in a notably more relaxed mood than during previous appearances, joking with MEPs and reporters.
But he was not so relaxed about the overall state of the EU's economy, warning that the union's economic forecasts would have to be scaled down in the light of the recent terrorist attacks in Madrid.
And, as expected, he confirmed to reporters before his speech that the Commission would be taking to task six member states for breaching the euro rules - France, Germany, the UK, Italy, the Netherlands and Greece.
This will be confirmed officially tomorrow when the Commission unveils its economic report cards for EU member states - known in Brussels jargon as the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines.