New British govt rejects EU preview of national budgets
Britain's new finance minister George Osborne on Tuesday rejected an EU plan to preview and assess national budgets, saying there was no question of supplanting the role of parliaments.
"I made it absolutely clear, as did several other people around the table, that there was no question of in any way supplanting the role of national parliaments ... in being the first to hear the budgets," Osborne told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with his fellow EU finance ministers.
It was not the only topic on which Osborne crossed swords with the EU Commission as he set out his stall on behalf of Britain's new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.
He also took issue at Brussels' plans for a significant hike in the EU's own budget next year at a time when governments are desperately trying to cut spending to put their public finances in order.
EU officials sought to assuage the concerns of Britain and others over the budget vetting proposal.
"There is some shadow boxing here because we have not proposed that we would want to delve into budget lines of member states' budgets," EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said.
"We don't have any intentions nor resources" for line-by-line vetting of budgets, he stressed.
The commission is just seeking "early peer review" of the broad budget lines "so that they aren't completely out of step" with other EU nations, particularly within the 16-nation eurozone.,
That would allow for "recommendations" and the expectation of "corrective action to come into line with the common policy stance," he added.
Osborne was unequivocal.
"I was very clear that national parliaments must absolutely be paramount in the budget-making process and be the first to hear those budgets," he said.
"That view was echoed by others around the table. I don't think there was actually a view to the contrary that was expressed.".
Elena Salgado, the finance minister of Spain which holds the rotating EU presidency, also said that only the "broad outlines" of the budget would be sought in advance under the commission's proposals.
"Parliamentary prerogatives are in no way impinged upon in this process," she said.
© 2010 AFP