HC Deb 27 November 1998 vol 321 cc20-1W
Mr. Caplin

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the council meeting of the Economic and Finance Ministers of the European Union held on 23 November. [61908]

Mr. Gordon Brown

I attended the Economic and Finance Council—ECOFIN—of the European Union in Brussels on 23 November. The Economic Secretary accompanied me.

In the context of Agenda 2000, ECOFIN discussed the EC's future financial framework and in particular the stabilisation of EC spending by 2006 at its present real-terms level of around 85 billion euro. There was increasing support for this idea, which the UK supports, not least because it will help prepare the EU for enlargement. We asked that this issue be put on the table for the Vienna European Council. I made it clear that stabilisation was compatible with CAP reform.

The Council discussed reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and Own Resources issues. I made clear the UK's willingness to find a package of measures to address other states' large net contributions, whilst making it clear that, in moderating their problems, it would be unjust to make ours worse. Stabilisation of spending should form part of this package. The Presidency undertook to prepare a report of all the Agenda 2000 discussions so far, to be submitted to the European Council at Vienna.

Commissioner Van Miert presented a paper on banks providing services of general economic interest. There was a discussion during which the German delegation said it would pursue the matter bilaterally with the Commission. Commissioner Monti proposed a framework for action in financial services. I make it clear that the UK did not support all aspects of the Commission's paper but welcomed action to improve the single market in financial services. The Council decided that a Financial Services Policy Group should be established, with the personal representatives of Finance Ministers, to identify priorities in improving the Single Market in Financial Services. The Economic Secretary will represent the UK.

The Commission introduced the 1999 Employment Guidelines, and the Chairman of the Economic Policy Committee gave his Committee's opinion on the Guidelines. The Council welcomed the Guidelines and the EPC's opinion on them.

The Council discussed the 1999 EC Budget. The Presidency concluded that a number of delegations had stressed the need for budget discipline, and several countries had also expressed concern about adequate funding for structural policies.

The Council discussed measures to take forward the Sound and Efficient Management 2000 initiative. The proposed conclusions were adopted. Commissioner Gradin made a presentation describing the progress made in the Fight against Fraud in recent years. The adoption by Council of the joint guideline on inspections of Community Own Resources was blocked by Spain and is to be remitted to Coreper.

The Council discussed combating the counterfeiting of the euro. The Presidency concluded that the Monetary Committee's recommendations would be adopted as Council conclusions. The Council discussed the issue of collector coins in the euro area. The Presidency adopted the Monetary Committee's recommendations.

The Council agreed that there will be a special ECOFIN on 31 December in Brussels to fix the exchange rates of those participating in the 3rd stage of EMU.