EU ministers agree to Macron-backed Eurozone budget

EU finance ministers agreed on the broad outlines of a Eurozone budget early Friday, France’s finance minister said, a key reform pushed by Paris that was scaled back amid deep resistance by the Netherlands.

“We did tonight what we had set out to do: we’ve created a genuine Eurozone budget,” Bruno Le Maire said after more than 12 hours of talks.

“For the first time, we have created an operational budget that will help Eurozone countries to converge and become more competitive. It’s a breakthrough,” he told AFP.

“For the first time, we will start thinking about the future as a coherent bloc and coordinating our economic policies,” he added.

The spokesman for the President of the Eurogroup Mario Centeno in a tweet welcomed the deal reached by the ministers adding the details would be announced at a press conference later on Friday.

French President Emmanuel Macron had championed the hard won budget, seen by many as one of the missing links in the single currency almost a decade after the debt crisis.

But his original ambition has been toned down by opponents led by the Netherlands that fear a transfer of wealth to crisis-prone countries such as Italy, Greece or Spain.

The ministers’ agreement is officially not called a budget – which would be too politically sensitive in richer countries – but something called the Budgetary Instrument for Competitiveness and Convergence, a fund with limited firepower to be used to back reforms.

The cumbersome renaming came at the demand of the Dutch, who have only accepted the instrument on condition that it remains a modest affair.

A French source said the exact amount of the budget would be finalized at a later date, but that all its other components were agreed by the ministers.

The agreement by ministers will be presented for formal approval to EU leaders at a summit next week in Brussels.

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