§ Ms Lawrence
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the recent council meeting of the Economic and Finance Ministers of the European Union. 
§ Mr. Gordon Brown
I represented the UK at the Economic and Finance Council—ECOFIN—of the European Union in Brussels on 7 July.
Most of the formal session was taken up by an open debate on Luxembourg's plans for work in ECOFIN during their Presidency of the EU. Key areas in the next six months include preparation for the Special Employment Summit, taking forward preparations for stage three of EMU and work on all financial aspects of enlargement of the Union and the Agenda 2000 dossier.
The series of "structured dialogues" with Ministers of the Central and Eastern European countries continued with a discussion of capital liberalisation and reform of the financial sector, both in formal session and over lunch. Ministers from the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Poland outlined the progress their countries had made in these sectors. It was noted that, while progress had clearly been made, weaknesses remained and needed to be addressed. Hungary will host a seminar later this year to discuss further work.
The Council carried out an examination of Italy's convergence programme for the period 1998 to 2000. It acknowledged the progress made by Italy on inflation, interest rates and currency stability. It welcomed the commitment to reducing the fiscal deficit, while stressing the need to implement structural reforms so a low deficit could be sustained in the longer term. The Council also noted the need to reduce the high level of accumulated government debt.
The Council discussed informally a draft regulation on the technical specification for euro coins. No member state indicated disagreement with the substance of the regulation. I noted that the text had not yet cleared Parliamentary scrutiny.
The Council discussed informally the EC Budget for 1998. Formal discussions will take place at the Budget Council meeting on 24 July.
In further informal discussions, the Council agreed that ECOFIN should examine all issues related to Agenda 2000 and that the Presidency would propose that the meeting between Asian and EU Finance Ministers in September should include consideration of money laundering.
The Presidency informed the Council that a meeting between EU and EFTA Finance Ministers would take place over dinner on the eve of the 13 October ECOFIN.