HC Deb 19 May 2004 vol 421 cc990-1W
Mr. Hood

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the outcome was of the ECOFIN Council held on 11 May; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if he will make a statement. [173080]

Mr. Gordon Brown

I attended the ECOFIN meeting on 11 May. This was the first ECOFIN attended by the accession countries as full members of the European Union.

ECOFIN had an orientation discussion of the draft Broad Economic Policy Guidelines (BEPGs). The Council took note of the Commission's recommendations for this year's update and requested that the Economic and Financial Committee and the Economic Policy Committee take work forward so as to enable the Council to adopt a report to the European Council on the BEPGs in its meeting on 2 June.

An EPC report on Potential Output and Output gaps was adopted. Discussion noted the transitional problems of Spain, Austria and Germany in moving to an estimation method based solely on the production function.

The Council took stock of the situation regarding the adoption of the European Investment Bank's external lending mandates.

The Council adopted a Decision abrogating Decision 2002/923/EC on the existence of an excessive budget deficit in Portugal, noting that it had complied with the terms of the Recommendation adopted by the Council with a view to bringing that deficit situation to an end.

The Council took stock of progress made in negotiations on savings tax agreements. It welcomed progress made with Andorra on a savings tax agreement and the prospect of monetary agreement, and adopted a Decision on the position to be taken. I provided an update on the Crown Dependencies and Caribbean Overseas Territories. The Council reaffirmed its determination for the various savings tax

Following global compromises agreed with the European Parliament in March, political agreement was reached on two draft Directives on financial services as amended by the European Parliament—Transparency Directive and Committee Structure Directive. Formal adoption, without further discussion, will follow later in the year.

The Council took note of the presentation by the Commission of the EU's preliminary draft budget for 2005. A brief exchange of views was held. It was requested that the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) examine the text and prepare a package enabling the Council to adopt the 2005 Draft Budget at the July 16th Budget ECOFIN.

The Council was briefed by the Presidency on the work by the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) on the EU's financial perspective for 2007–2013, and held an exchange of views. I stated the need for a budget of 1 per cent. of ED GNI based on clear priorities: —subsidiarity, EU valued added, and budget discipline. The Presidency will prepare a report in advance of the European Council on 17 and 18 June, to provide guidance for the next phase of work.

The Council took note of the situation regarding excise duty rates on alcohol and of concerns expressed by the Swedish delegation regarding delay in the presentation by the Commission of a report on this subject. The Commission said that the report was currently being finalised and would be adopted as soon as practical within the coming weeks. The presidency concluded that all Member States would want to consider the report carefully when it was released.

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