EU warns Italy, Spain on their budgets
BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union officials warned major economies Spain and Italy that their budget plans risk breaching EU rules aimed at keeping deficits and debt under control.
For the first time, the EU's executive commission is reviewing draft budgets before national legislatures pass them. The review is aimed at getting ahead of budget troubles and preventing them from undermining the shared euro currency.
Italy, the No. 3 economy in the 17-country eurozone, was cited Friday for missing its debt reduction goal for next year. Spain, the No. 4 economy, was warned its deficit would breach the EU's annual limit.
The commission said in a statement that it now "invites" officials and legislators in the affected countries to take steps to bring their 2014 budgets into compliance with the rules. Smaller euro members Finland, Luxembourg and Malta were also cautioned.
The warning for now doesn't carry any penalties. Olli Rehn, the European Union's economic and monetary affairs commission, said the review was "much more about partnership than penalties."
The EU rules, on paper, limit countries to deficits of 3 percent of annual economic output and debt of 60 percent of output. They were widely violated during the debt crisis that began in 2009, so the Commission has been pressing countries to get their finances in order — but trying not to push so hard that austerity hurts economic growth.
The rules, which date to before the introduction of the euro in 1997, were toughed in 2011 and 2013 after debt levels grew to unmanageable levels in several eurozone countries, threatening the currency union with breakup.
If countries wind up actually breaking the rules, the commission can put them on a recovery plan, called an excessive deficit procedure, that aims to guide them back to full compliance. Thirteen of the eurozone's 17 members are currently on such a plan. If the violations persist, financial penalties of up to 0.2 percent of GDP are possible.
Countries that piled up so much debt they had to be bailed out with the help of the other eurozone countries were not included in the review. That is because they are already subject to EU monitoring. They are Ireland, whose financial support ends Dec. 15, Cyprus, Portugal and Greece.